A few years ago when patients were dying in his district, Gregory Barker, a member of England’s Parliament, rolled up his sleeves and worked a shift with the cleaning staff at a hospital in his district. “Hospital cleaning is a vital part of patient care,” he said in a statement released later by his staff.  

Where are his counterparts in your hospital, your state or Congress? Do you think anybody at the top would roll up his or her sleeves to see that the Hygiene Professionals are the vanguard in this fight?

A vanguard is the forward unit in an advancing army. As vanguards in the battle against hospital-acquired infections (as related to contaminated environmental surfaces) we need to be well-equipped, well-trained and supported with proper funding for the fight. Hygiene Professionals might very well be the only thing that will break the chain of infection now, or in the future.

In John Walker’s book, “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified”, he outlines some elementary truths about the importance of the cleaning function in eliminating dangerous or bad bugs from the indoor environment. The book is both a student workbook and a reference manual which should be read and studied carefully by trainers and cleaning workers.

The following is a list of valuable information I learned from this book:

1. The elements of microbiology and disinfection;

2. The reproduction of bacteria (how a single bacteria reproduces itself every 15 to 30 minutes and that in five hours one bacterium turns into over a million bacteria);

3. How bacteria move;

4. Routes of transmission; and

5. The basics of getting rid of bacteria (don’t feed ‘em, don’t move ‘em, just remove or kill ‘em).

In his book, Walker asks and answers the question, “Why should we disinfect?” There are two reasons for using a disinfectant: first, we should disinfect when there is a possibility or probability that a disease-causing organism is present on the surface being cleaned; and second, we disinfect when a governmental or institutional agency says we have to do so.

Another principle of cleaning for health is this: According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), friction (or, good old-fashioned “elbow grease”) is as important to removing bacteria and microorganisms from environmental surfaces as disinfectants. 

Isn’t that amazing? Although “bad bugs” may contaminate surfaces such as tables, chairs, floors, or countertops, it is questionable whether anyone really needs to disinfect these inanimate surfaces.

Before you begin doubting this claim, I must remind you that this is direct information from the CDC. Although microorganisms are a normal contaminant of walls, floors, and other surfaces, these environmental surfaces rarely are associated with transmission of infections to patients or personnel. Therefore, extraordinary attempts to disinfect or sterilize these environmental surfaces are rarely indicated.

However, please keep in mind that routine cleaning and removal of soil are recommended.  Any hospital-grade disinfectant-detergent formulation registered by the EPA can be useful for environmental surface cleaning, but the actual physical removal of microorganisms by scrubbing is probably as important, if not more so, than antimicrobial effect of the cleaning agent.


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 darrel@darrelhicks.com or through his website at www.darrelhicks.com.