Clean, Sanitize, Or Disinfect

By Dawn Shoemaker
Photos Courtesy Of Kaivac

As winter approaches, many parks and recreation centers have concerns about possible flu or virus outbreaks. For example, during the winter of 2012-2013, a serious flu outbreak occurred, and the vaccine available at the time was only about 60 percent effective. *


Typically, when there is an outbreak in a school or public facility, managers increase both cleaning frequency and intensity—at least for a while. In fact, sometimes increases in cleaning even go overboard. For example, when the SARS epidemic hit Hong Kong more than 10 years ago, many inhabitants reported that the entire city smelled of chlorine bleach because so much of the powerful chemical was used.

Having consistent cleaning standards in place at all times to keep facilities clean and pathogen free—rather than increasing cleaning efforts in response to an immediate risk—generally proves to be a more effective strategy in the long-term, as such an approach is less costly, healthier, and potentially more environmentally friendly. Also, with such standards in place, cleaning professionals can handle any outbreaks that occur in a calmer and more efficient manner.  (See Sidebar: What are cleaning standards?)

Choosing The Right Chemicals
To develop a cleaning-standards program, a manager must first divide the facility into three distinct categories:

  • Those areas where only an all-purpose cleaning chemical is needed on a regular basis

  • Those areas that require more cleaning attention

  • Those areas that need the most cleaning attention.

For example, areas such as offices and staff rooms generally need only basic cleaning. Open areas used by children and their parents (including counters, waiting areas, classrooms, workstations, and indoor play areas) usually need more thorough cleaning. Areas requiring the most thorough cleaning include restrooms, food-service areas, and high-touch items such as doorknobs, light switches, etc.

As noted above, an all-purpose cleaner can be used for routine office cleaning. Areas that require more thorough cleaning will likely require the use of sanitizers. These chemicals reduce the number of microbes and pathogens on a surface to a safe level. Areas that need even more thorough cleaning are generally treated with disinfectants. These products kill all germs and bacteria found on surfaces.

Cleaning professionals should also be aware of the following factors in choosing the right cleaning chemicals:

  • Even in areas where only all-purpose cleaners are needed, sanitizers and/or disinfectant should be used occasionally to more thoroughly clean surfaces.

  • Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are not the same. Usually a surface must be cleaned first and then sanitized or disinfected—a two-step process—unless the product’s labeling indicates both functions can be performed in one step.

  • Some sanitizers and disinfectants are costly, are potentially dangerous to use, and can have adverse environmental impacts; consequently, these should be used only when and where they are needed.

  • Disinfectants must remain wet on the surface for as long as 10 minutes (referred to as “dwell time”) for the chemical to work effectively.

Cleaning Standards And Equipment
Is there a mop and bucket in your janitorial closet? Is the mop dark and soiled? Does the bucket look soiled? Or, worst of all, is the soiled mop that was used a couple of days before still sitting in the bucket of dirty water? While this situation is not uncommon, cleaning professionals should nevertheless avoid it. That mop and bucket may be spreading more germs on floor surfaces than are being removed.

Park and rec managers and cleaning professionals also need to be aware that floor care is an important concern for children because they play on floors, touch them, fall on them, drag shoelaces over them, etc. And every contact children have with a germ-ridden floor increases their chances of coming into contact with pathogens. Children frequently touch surfaces and then their mouths, eyes, and noses, which can lead to cross-contamination and potential illness.

To avoid cross-contamination and protect the youngest visitors, many facilities have now eliminated the use of mops and buckets wherever possible. Instead, many managers are now choosing to use spray-and-vac cleaning systems instead. These machines apply cleaning chemicals to all surfaces (not just floors), rinse the areas cleaned, and then vacuum up the contaminants and cleaning solution.

The Final Component For Cleaning Standards
While choosing the right chemicals and equipment is crucial in developing successful cleaning standards, one more component is necessary: proper training of custodial workers. The first step is simply communicating to employees that the facility will be initiating a new cleaning strategy to keep the facility clean and healthy. The workers must also become familiar with any new chemicals and equipment. Many facility managers ask the janitorial distributors to educate the employees in the proper use of products, including chemicals. The improper use of chemicals not only is costly, but can also defeat the entire goal of protecting the health of users and staff members.

Finally, the success of a cleaning-standards program requires that everyone adhere to a strict sick policy. If employees are sick, they must stay home. A study by a major office supplier found that as many as 80 percent of workers report to work even when they know they are ill. They most likely would get better sooner if they stayed home for a few days, which would also prevent the spread of germs to other building users. **

Dawn Shoemaker is a frequent writer for the professional building and cleaning industries.  She may be reached at (773) 525-3021.

*No flu vaccine is 100-percent effective. At 60 percent, this vaccine was considered “moderately effective” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

** A 2011 survey conducted by CareerBuilder found that 72 percent of people go to work sick. A survey in 2012 conducted by Staples found that that number might actually be closer to 80 percent.


What are cleaning standards?
Cleaning standards comprise the following:

  • Taking steps to precisely identify what needs to be cleaned in a facility

  • Identifying how the area needs to be cleaned (the use of chemicals, tools, equipment, systems, or cleaning methods) so the process protects the health of building users first and foremost, and then the environment

  • Organizing the cleaning to improve worker productivity

  • Envisioning the final cleaning objective

  • Measuring the amount of contamination left on a surface after cleaning, by using a hygiene measurement device, such as a handheld ATP (adenosine triphosphate) meter. This molecule is found in all living organisms, and finding it on a surface in specific amounts can indicate the presence of bacteria or pathogens that may endanger human health.