In the early days of the green cleaning movement, chemicals with lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were often fairly ineffective. That's no longer the case, thanks to advancements in technology.

"The technology to treat water to work as both cleaners and disinfectants has progressed to the point where they work well and emit no VOCs," says Bill Fellows, a consultant in Nashville, Tennessee, with more than 54 years of experience in the cleaning business. "Every cleaning organization should be testing these systems and move to them whenever possible."

When selecting floor and other cleaning chemicals, the key is choosing the least caustic option that will deliver the desired results.

"SARS-CoV-2 is one of the easiest types of pathogens to kill, so we don't need to use some of the more caustic disinfectants," says Solomon. "People don't recognize that, so they go for bleach or bleach wipes when it's not necessary. There are other chemicals that will kill this virus but not have the health-related impacts to the building occupants."

Rather than simply acquiescing to client suggestions, BSCs can proactively suggest low-VOC chemicals. They should also create a chemical safety policy that includes a list of caustic products they will not use. The EPA provides classification charts that can help BSCs identify the volatility of different chemicals and classify appropriate options.

Use Safer Procedures

The tools and procedures a janitor uses are nearly as important to IAQ as the chemicals. BSCs can play their part by avoiding anything that introduces dust or chemicals into the air. Easily adoptable changes include using microfiber whenever possible and pouring chemicals onto wipes or cloths to apply them instead of spraying directly on surfaces.

"Cleaning products are often viewed as being beneficial, but they can also bring unintended consequences into our environment in other ways, such as VOCs or leaving toxic substances on surfaces," says Roger McFadden, president and senior scientist at McFadden and Associates, Canby, Oregon.

As an example, electrostatic sprayers are surging in popularity, but can cause serious IAQ concerns if improperly used.

"What matters is the chemical you're putting into that sprayer. Is that an appropriate application method for the environment and for that chemical?" says Solomon. "BSCs need to do their due diligence in choosing an appropriate chemical for that method."

BSCs should consult equipment manufacturers and distribution partners for help identifying appropriate chemicals for use. These sources will also help outline necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides reliable steps online for safely donning and removing PPE, including important hygiene steps to take during each process.

"Wearing PPE is important to protect the workers themselves from COVID-19 and from the chemicals they are working with," says McFadden. "PPE is part of the job and will protect them from a lot of different enemies."

Invest In Equipment

Cleaning's impact on indoor air is about more than just chemicals and procedures. Machines can also impact the air inside facilities. Vacuum cleaners, floor buffers, burnishers, and other equipment should include a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.

"You want to ensure you're trapping whatever you're trying to collect, as opposed to disseminating it," says Richard Shaughnessy, Ph.D, program director, Indoor Air Research at University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

An equipment maintenance program should include regular cleaning and replacement of HEPA filters to ensure they remain effective. It's also best to purchase and use floor equipment that includes dust covers surrounding the drive blocks to prevent dust from being scattered throughout the building.

Similarly, wet-floor cleaning equipment should include the same covers to prevent overspray into the air.

Implement Matting

"Eighty percent or more of the dirt that comes into a space is brought in on our shoes," says Shaughnessy. "In many countries, it's a common custom to remove shoes when entering a space. That's because of that incredible load we carry with us on our shoes." That means protecting a building's indoor air actually starts outside. Ideally, a matting program should include at least 10 feet of scraper mat outside, followed by 10 more feet of wiper matting inside.

"There have been a lot of studies showing you can improve IAQ by as much as 50 percent just by installing good matting systems," says McFadden.

In some cases, building management wants to use matting only in extreme weather conditions. BSCs can educate these clients about the role tracked-in debris plays in IAQ. Also, the cost of matting is typically more than recovered in reduced cleaning requirements and improved life of the flooring.

Remove Odor Eliminators

"A clean building has no odors to eliminate," says Fellows.

Deodorizers mask, but do not eliminate odors. When using an aerosolized fragrance, BSCs increase the level of particulate in the air and negatively affect IAQ.

"If you have a sensitive population, like the elderly or small children, deodorizers are something you really want to move away from," says Solomon.

If a client insists on the use of air fresheners, options that meet the EPA's Safer Choice standard should top the list.

Provide Quality Training

It's not enough to offer only basic training on the correct use of chemicals and equipment, or to trust that it's being properly followed. Training should be thorough and ongoing.

"Service providers should also stay informed on the latest research that shows the benefits of healthy indoor air quality, how IAQ impacts COVID-19 transmission and advocate for smarter purchasing decisions that will save owners money and protect their workforce," says Glaser.

The EPA has resources for BSCs related to IAQ and preventing the spread of COVID-19 through best practices, including detailed articles outlining how VOCs affect IAQ and their risk factors to human health.

Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. She is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits

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BSCs Aid In Improving Indoor Air Quality