The past two and half years practically blew the cleaning industry up. Seemingly overnight, cleaning workers transformed from invisible commodities to frontline heroes, CEOs showed sudden interest in cleaning strategies, and a critical mass of newly minted “experts” — armed with shiny new products and very little proof of efficacy — came out the woodwork. All the changes left building service contractors (BSCs) working endlessly to keep up.  

Meanwhile the rest of the population washed their hands, searched for supplies, and tried to explain why it might not be beneficial to disinfect every inch of every surface in sight.   

Now that the world has more information and a bit of perspective, some clarity has emerged. Contracting Profits asked three professionals what strategies should stick around in a nearly post-pandemic world, what should go and what may be hygiene theater.  

Hand Hygiene Here to Stay 

Everyone agrees that increased awareness around the importance of hand hygiene may be the single best outcome of the pandemic. Why? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) frames the answer in the starkest terms possible right at the top of a webpage about handwashing in community settings: Clean Hands Save Lives.  

Hopefully, that will translate into people spending more time washing hands with soap and water and drying with a paper towel or air dryer outfitted with a HEPA filter. Sanitizer usage also skyrocketed in popularity, but experts agree that sanitizing should only be used in between washing or when soap and water isn’t available.  

However, anecdotal evidence says people are still not washing their hands enough — even after no-brainer situations like using the restroom.  

“After a recent trip through an airport, I’m sad to report that there is still not 100 percent compliance on handwashing in the restroom,” says Keith Schneringer, director of merchandising + sustainability for WAXIE Sanitary Supply, an Envoy Solutions Company, San Diego, with a laugh.   

The problem appears endemic even in the most sensitive locations.  

“We’re lucky to get 50 percent handwashing compliance in a hospital setting,” reports John Thomas, CMIP, CIMS-GB, ICE, director of health and wellness, Imperial Dade, Jersey City, New Jersey. “So, what do we think the percentage is in restaurants? Frankly, it is kind of scary.”  

Thomas hopes that hand hygiene will remain a priority instead of going back to a necessary evil to be provided as cheaply as possible.  

“I’ve seen refillable soap dispensers (bulk soap) in healthcare settings instead of cartridge systems. I’ve seen a bottle of sanitizer duct taped to a wall in a food processing plant,” he says. “We can and should do better.” 

Cleaning Takes Center Stage 

Hand hygiene wasn’t the only topic that came to the forefront as a result of the pandemic. Maintenance programs, and the folks who do the work, are finally getting the attention they deserve as well. All three experts pointed to the general public’s new sense of gratitude towards the people who keep interior spaces clean and safe.  

“Cleaning has gone from a budget line item to a vital investment for a facility and the health of building occupants,” says Schneringer. “We keep buildings open and economies running. That should stay important.” 

Richard B. Rodriguez, president, McLemore Building Maintenance, Inc., Houston, agrees.  

“We are definitely seen as more important now,” he says. “People are willing to listen to our expertise and even pay more for our services.”  

Rodriguez also notes that decision makers are more interested in sharing that knowledge with other stakeholders. For example, when he shares literature about the cleaning that is being done inside the schools to keep occupants safe and healthy, it’s not uncommon for the school superintendent to forward the information to parents in email blasts.  

This phenomenon is what Thomas calls “hygiene transparency” and he agrees that it should continue.  

“Whoever is doing the cleaning should communicate what they are doing and why,” says Thomas. “It justifies the whole operation.”  

Rising Importance of IAQ 

Good indoor air quality (IAQ) promotes better health and productivity, and a well-designed cleaning program should enhance that precious resource.  

“People in the cleaning industry have been protecting indoor air quality all along,” says Schneringer. Now, with the public putting IAQ front and center, it is a great time to talk about how proper cleaning practices protect indoor environments.  

This means BSCs should work with clients to invest in proven air purifying technology, robust entryway matting systems, vacuums equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, microfiber cleaning cloths over cotton, cleaning chemicals with low or no volatile organize compounds (VOCs), and good drain maintenance.    

But don’t just throw open the windows and call it a day. Thomas warns that in some cases, opening a window can actually make IAQ worse. 

“If the building is near a highway, you might be allowing exhaust and other irritants in. Or you could introduce excess humidity,” he says. 

Instead, Thomas recommends using filters with the highest MERV (minimum efficiency reporting values) rating that the building’s HVAC system can tolerate.  

“You don’t want to overburden the system,” he stresses. 

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Prioritize Frontline Training, Avoid Hygiene Theater