When cleaning K-12 schools, the aim is to keep occupants safe and healthy, particularly as children are among the most vulnerable of populations.

And the students’ health habits aren’t always up to par. There’s a reason that viral outbreaks tend to occur in school environments: Not only do children have daily close contact, touching the same items, eating lunch together and sharing a restroom, but proper hand washing is not yet ingrained in their young minds. This article looks at two approaches to green cleaning in schools. Both building service contractors profiled share the same goal of reducing illness and therefore, absenteeism.

Ruben Rives’ belief in his cleaning system becomes apparent in the first few minutes of conversation. The owner of H2Only Renewable Cleaning in Doral, Fla., is passionate about his cleaning processes and his clients, including about 20 schools scattered throughout Dade County and Broward County in Florida, as well as several in Atlanta.

Rives uses “renewable cleaning technology,” which is the removal of chemicals and pathogens utilizing water as the key ingredient.

He devised and completed a pilot program with a school in Broward County four years ago, reducing chemical usage and incorporating microfiber cloths, ionized water and a dry steam vapor system in its place.

“For us, it has to do with chemical-free cleaning. It’s basically making sure that you do touch-points on a daily basis, and use as few toxic chemicals as possible,” says Rives. 

Water, when used appropriately, can stand in for a closet full of chemicals. Ionized water electrically activates tap water, giving it the same cleaning strength as a multi-purpose chemical (when finished, it reverts back into plain water). In addition, steam vapor, which also uses tap water, is capable of disinfecting surfaces in three seconds with a 99.95 percent efficacy rate.

Rives says that there is no such thing as a nonporous surface; therefore, the more times a janitor sprays a chemical, the more times they inject chemicals inside those pores and the more VOCs are released. That last point is a huge problem, especially around kids and those with asthma. 

Before the start of the green cleaning program, a dozen or so children regularly needed asthma medication during the school day. Since implementing the procedures, Rives says there has been a significant reduction in asthma-related illnesses within the school.

Using water technology as a supplement to chemicals can help eliminate VOCs, but the real solution, Rives says, is to contain biofilm — microorganisms that adhere to a surface and cause bacterial illnesses. He acknowledges that at some point, janitors have to use a disinfectant or a chemical, but the trick is keeping the biofilm in check.

“If I can contain bioload, I’m golden because that is a food source for bacteria,” says Rives. “Elevator buttons, door handles, keyboards; you need to maintain those as clean as possible, as frequently as possible, in order to have a successful green program.”

Not only is Rives motivated to keep his clients healthy, but he is also a dedicated educator. He established the nonprofit Renewable Cleaning in order to create awareness about the deleterious effects of chemicals.

And Rives is anxious to pass along what he knows. Because kids touch their eyes and face all the time, and because they play on the floor and don’t wash their hands enough, he goes into classrooms and encourages frequent hand washing, using soap and water.

next page of this article:
Commercial Cleaning Corp. Shares Green School Cleaning Guidelines