The 4 S's of cleaning is a concept that only takes up a page in the coursework I teach. It’s also one of the first lessons I learned when I entered the profession in 2003, and perhaps the most useful.  

I don't know where the idea came from initially. (If someone does, please share.) Perhaps it's one of those old lessons handed down over the generations, but I've found that it is a good primer for breaking through the complexities of making decisions about daily cleaning. Call me old-fashioned, but I like things to be simple. Thus, I happily share the 4 S's of Cleaning. 

The first S is Surface. As a daily cleaning operation, we are responsible for many surfaces. There is often ceramic and porcelain in restrooms; several different types of flooring from carpet to VCT (vinyl composition tile), terrazzo; and all the natural surfaces in between. There is also stainless steel, glass, exposed wood, chrome, resins, plastics, rubber and even latex-painted surfaces.  

All in all, there are about 20 different surfaces that average cleaning teams are responsible for every day. How our crews tackle them significantly impacts their appearance and their sustainability. 

Next are Soils. To this point, a fun exercise for your next training event might be a quick quiz to determine what your cleaning staff understands about the pH scale. The results might surprise you but knowing the scale will ultimately aid in operational success.  

We generally encounter two types of soils daily: acidic and alkali. Acidic soils run the gamut from human body oil (usually falling between 4 and 5 on the pH scale) to food and drink spills such as coffee or soda (closer to 3 or 4 pH). Depending on where you live, even dirt can be slightly acidic.  

Meanwhile, alkali soils that we frequently deal with are typically in the form of alkalis from hard water, or salts from ice melt that gets tracked in during the winter (trending toward the high end of the pH scale). 

When we talk about soils, it's essential to also understand Solvent. For our purposes, a solvent is a liquid that dissolves other substances. Like soils, there are two solvents: acid and alkali.  

Generally speaking, most daily cleaners are slightly alkali, as most of the soils they remove are acidic. Soils such as salts from ice melt, and alkali build-up from hard water, need to be dissolved safely in order to remove them from surfaces.  

Making sure that we have a strong understanding of the solvent will protect these surfaces. Solvents may dissolve soils but interact poorly with the surface (such as acids on natural stone), causing damage.

Finally, we have Schedule. How often do we need to manage soils using solvents? What's the expectation, and what's the best schedule to handle it? Twice daily, daily, weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually are the most common schedules for addressing soils on surfaces.

As I mentioned above, I like to start with simplicity. Understanding the 4 S's of cleaning helps you evaluate cleaning tools, frequencies, processes and training needs — and how they fit into your cleaning program. It's a simple guideline that provokes thoughtful discussion in the classroom and practical application.