Maintenance and Operations, Safety

New Terms to Ensure Effective Cleaning

Have you heard of the term “indiscriminate disinfecting?” What about the term “hygiene theater” or “Safety First”? These are all terms that have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic.

Because the pandemic has likely changed professional cleaning forever, these are terms that facility managers (FMs) who work with and hire cleaning professionals need to know.

For FMs, it will be effective cleaning that will help keep your building users healthy, your facility’s doors open, and our economy growing. To make it easier to remember them, we’ll call these a glossary of terms for effective cleaning.

With this in mind, let’s start with the new terms mentioned earlier.

Looking back on the past two years, we find that many cleaning professionals, often at the direction of FMs, have been disinfecting just about everything and anything. This is now known as indiscriminate disinfecting

There are many problems with this type of cleaning practice. First, the overuse of disinfectants can harm the user and the people who use the building. Furthermore, it is not part of an effective cleaning program, and on top of being potentially unhealthy, it is costly and wasteful. We need to use disinfectants more carefully, discriminating where and when they are needed to keep people healthy.

Discussing indiscriminate disinfecting is a good segue into our next term, hygiene theater. Coined in July 2020 by Derek Thompson, writing in The Atlantic magazine, hygiene theater is a practice that gives the illusion of effective cleaning. Once again, it involves the indiscriminate use of disinfectants, which, as we just mentioned, does not necessarily protect human health.

As to the third term mentioned above, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program is now beta-testing a new Safety First program. The program acknowledges that with the pandemic, some cleaning solutions and practices may be necessary even though they are not viewed as environmentally preferable. However, the program is designed to ensure that all types of effective cleaning practices have minimal impact on the environment.

Safety First also presses the need to test surfaces using ATP (adenosine triphosphate) monitors to detect if living cells are on a surface. While an ATP monitor does not tell us if disease-causing pathogens are present or what kinds of pathogens are present, a high reading indicates that more effective cleaning is likely needed. By identifying targeted areas to clean based on the reading, ATP monitors also limit the amount of cleaning solutions necessary in cleaning, helping to minimize cleaning’s impact on the environment.

Some other terms FMs should be aware of include the following:

Effective cleaning. Cleaning refers to the safe removal of unwanted materials from a surface. Effective cleaning takes this a step further. It refers to the use of cleaning solutions and cleaning methods proven to safely remove soils from surfaces. The critical difference between the two terms is the word “proven.” Due to COVID, FMs must now make sure all cleaning products and methods used in their facilities are proven to help protect human health.

N-List. Most FMs are familiar with the N-List (also known as List-N). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed this term early on in the pandemic. The agency tested disinfectants currently available and those being introduced to the marketplace to see if they were effective in eliminating the pathogen that causes COVID. Those that passed the test made it to the EPA’s N-List.

ATP zones. We discussed ATP earlier, but this term goes a step further. We can no longer test just one point on a surface to determine if ATP is present. Instead, we need to test surrounding areas—zones—on the same surface. One zone may have a low ATP reading, while another a high ATP reading. If one zone has a high reading, the entire surface should be cleaned or recleaned.

Deep cleaning. Deep cleaning is not a scientific term. However, it typically refers to a more thorough cleaning of more surfaces, often using more powerful cleaning solutions. For instance, in schools, deep cleaning may be performed on weekends, giving cleaning professionals more time to clean surfaces that are hard to reach or can’t be attended to during the week.

UV-C. One of the older technologies that have come to the rescue since the pandemic is UV-C or ultraviolet light. The “C” refers to the type of ultraviolet light. The other two types are “A” and “B.” However, C has proven to be an antimicrobial, eliminating germs, bacteria, and other pathogens. UV-C systems are placed in open areas, such as office spaces, when they are not in use. The machine is turned on, and after so many minutes, a timer turns it off, eradicating pathogens in the process.

Electrostatic sprayers. This is another older technology that has been renewed due to the pandemic. Electrostatic sprayers release a positively charged disinfectant onto specific surfaces. Because most surfaces are negatively charged, the disinfectant adheres to the surface, eliminating pathogens. These sprayers are widely used now in cleaning, and this increased usage is expected to continue even after the pandemic has lifted.

Another term we should be aware of is one you have most likely heard before: distributors. The pandemic caught us off guard. What steps must FMs take now to keep their facilities clean and healthy now? What technologies are best, and best specifically for their facility? Which are safe for the user, building users, and the environment, and which require more caution?

View distributors as walking encyclopedias when it comes to protecting human health. They provide a wealth of information specific to your needs that no mega- or online retailer can provide. To ensure the health and safety of your facility and its users, work with an astute jan/san distributor. It’s a necessity now.

Michael Wilson is Vice President of Marketing and Packaging for AFFLINK, a distributor-based company specializing in marketing packaging, cleaning products, and technologies that improve building efficiencies as well as help protect human health and safety.

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