Improving the health and safety of the public is one of our primary missions in custodial operations. To support our objectives, I put together a list of the top five activities cleaning workers can do to impact health and safety of the public.

1. Train and re-train Hygiene Specialists (custodial workers) that their role is not cleaning for appearance sake, but for health’s sake. Workers should be trained on the science of cleaning and disinfecting. 

They should understand that the custodial department performs both the clinical function of removing and inactivating/killing pathogens that could cause a preventable HAI (Healthcare Associated Infection). Workers also must understand the practical function of cleaning (no dust, no spots, no smudges, no smells all equals clean).

2. The cost of not performing their job as directed could cost the employer millions of dollars by way of lawsuits. Our patients enter our facilities worried about germs and about getting an infection. We can impact patient satisfaction by allaying those fears while communicating, “While I am here today, I am going to disinfect all the high touch surfaces in your room and then disinfect your restroom before I leave.”  

The Hygiene Specialist can also impact HAI rates by doing a good job of providing a safe, clean and disinfected facility that could save their employer millions.

3. Train those who clean that there is a pattern for cleaning. That is, clean the room from top to bottom, and from the cleanest part of the room to the dirtiest, leaving the restroom for last. When cleaning the “patient zone” (the 3-foot area around the patient’s bed, including the bed rails), use a new, clean cloth. When done performing that task, ask the patient, “Is there anything I missed?”

4. Never double dip a cleaning cloth. Set up a clean bucket of properly diluted disinfectant at the beginning of the shift and then add 10 to 15 microfiber cloths to the solution. When it comes time to disinfect hard surfaces, merely reach into the bucket for a clean, disinfectant-charged cloth. Fold the cloth in half and then half again. As a surface is cleaned, unfold the cloth to the next unused portion. Keep doing this systematically until all eight sides have been used. A good microfiber will “catch micro-soils, but not release them." 

Never return (double-dip) a soiled cloth into the clean solution because the disinfectant will become contaminated and less effective as time goes on. By utilizing this method, the same properly diluted disinfectant could last an entire 8-hour shift without having to be changed.

5. Using a quaternary ammonium disinfectant with retired cotton cleaning cloths (such as surgical towels, terry cloth towels and washcloths, T-shirt material) and cotton, string mops is counter-productive and dangerous. Unfortunately, this quat and cotton combination is used in most hospitals and hotels. 

Cotton inactivates quat disinfectants by binding the active ingredients to the cotton rather than releasing them to the surface. This happens within 5 minutes of introducing cotton wipers or mops to the bucket of properly diluted quat disinfectant. In fact, you might as well be using water after 5 minutes because the ppm (parts per million) of active ingredients in the quat disinfectant is out of specification and in violation of US federal law.

Those are my top five activities necessary to impact the health and safety of the public. I welcome your thoughts about an item you think should have made the list, but didn’t. 


J. Darrel Hicks, REH, CHESP, is the author of "Infection Control For Dummies" and has over 30 years of experience in the jan/san industry. For a free 30-minute phone consultation, contact him at or through his website at