As facilities resume regular cleaning duties, many are re-evaluating their disinfecting programs. 

At the height of the pandemic, frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces was the norm. But as facility occupancy increases and regular cleaning duties resume, cleaning departments are questioning the amount of time and energy dedicated to disinfecting and whether procedural changes are necessary.  

To determine disinfection needs, Bill McGarvey, director of training and sustainability for Imperial Dade, Jersey City, New Jersey, recommends that facility cleaning managers assess their current risk level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 Community Level website and the Current Hospital Capacity Estimates website are good resources to establish case counts in the area of cleaning. Facility type also factors into the risk assessment. 

Additionally, custodial staffs need to identify areas and surfaces in their buildings that require regular disinfection services. 

“Think about those frequently touched surfaces that are touched by more than one person,” McGarvey says. “A person sitting at their desk touching their personal items is not really a concern.” 

While proper surface disinfection remains imperative, much of the focus has shifted to improving indoor air quality (IAQ) as people became aware that COVID-19 spreads primarily through the air. 

Cleaning tools and equipment play an important role in extracting or trapping harmful pathogens, preventing them from becoming airborne. These can include high-filtration vacuum cleaners, microfiber cloths, and even entrance matting, to name a few. 

“We’ve been focused on clean and disinfected surfaces, and clean and sanitized hands,” notes Keith Schneringer,  director of Merchandising + Sustainability for WAXIE Sanitary Supply, an Envoy Solutions Company, San Diego. “One of the things we’ve learned from the pandemic is how cleaning products and equipment can work together to create clean air.” 

Distributors also caution facilities against the overuse of disinfectants, which can have an adverse effect on indoor air quality. Setting nozzles on disinfectant spray bottles to stream rather than mist is one way that custodians can reduce the risk of breathing in harmful chemicals. 

Start with a Clean Slate 

With frontline workers and budgets stretched thin, custodial departments may be feeling the pinch when it comes to prioritizing disinfection services post-pandemic. But, as distributors point out, continuing to emphasize the importance of cleaning will aid in the disinfection process.  

“Most of what we require is what we should be requiring all the time: thorough cleaning followed by appropriate levels of disinfection,” notes John Thomas, director, health and wellness, Imperial Dade. “It really starts with making sure all surfaces are clean.” 

Schneringer voices his agreement: “If you’ve got a clean surface, it’s much harder for a pathogen to establish a foothold on that surface,” he says. “Hopefully we can promote clean spaces first, and then targeted disinfection on high-touch surfaces.” 

For maximum disinfection effectiveness, industry experts recommend using products listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus. Facilities concerned about emerging viral pathogens, such as monkeypox, can also refer to EPA’s List Q: Disinfectants for Emerging Viral Pathogens. 

According to Thomas, contact times will differ depending on the pathogen being targeted, so it is incumbent on the operator to follow the recommended dwell times. 

Turn to Technology  

When it comes to purchasing appropriate disinfectants and adhering to kill claims, cutting corners is not an option. Instead, facilities should focus their efforts on reducing labor costs by considering tools that maximize productivity. 

“One of the challenges facility managers face is getting people to work,” says McGarvey. “Maybe it’s time to look at the overall operation and see where we can augment people with technology to make the operation more efficient in the long run.”  

Popularized by the pandemic, electrostatic sprayers are still an effective tool for disinfectant applications, when used correctly and after surfaces have been properly cleaned. 

“During the pandemic some people used electrostatic sprayers to spray everything indiscriminately,” says Schneringer, adding that spraying without proper training on where, when and how often equipment should be used is discouraged. “When used correctly, electrostatic sprayers are still a good tool to help speed up the process if you’ve got a large area to cover.”  

Ultraviolet (UV) light is another technology garnering attention in the industry. Used mostly in hospitals, these devices can disinfect without the use of chemicals.  

More widely used technologies such as dilution control systems are also a positive adjunct to cleaning and disinfecting programs. 

“For maximum effectiveness and economy, I recommend purchasing cleaning and disinfecting products as part of a closed-loop dilution control system,” says Schneringer. “Concentrate is more economical to purchase than ready-to-use products. Also, you can ensure safety and accuracy because employees aren’t coming into contact with the product, and they’re not potentially over-mixing or under-mixing it.” 

 No matter what technology is incorporated, facility cleaning managers must ensure that custodians are well versed and trained in the proper use of disinfectants. 

“It doesn’t matter how good your technology is if the people using it to protect the facility aren’t properly trained,” notes Thomas. 

Remove Panic from Pandemic  

While COVID-19 caught everyone off-guard, it also taught facility cleaning departments to be better prepared for possible outbreaks in the future. Now is the time to check personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and ensure that custodians know how and when to use them. 

At the same time, Schneringer warns facilities not to stockpile too much product. 

“It’s noteworthy that a lot of facilities still have excess hand sanitizer and disinfectant that was purchased during the pandemic,” he says. “These have a shelf life and can potentially go bad.”  

Tools and equipment also should be checked periodically to ensure that they are in working order, particularly those that aren’t used on a regular basis. 

“A lot of facilities already have the equipment they need, but they may not be using it currently,” notes McGarvey. “If they shove it in a closet and forget about it, six months from now they may need it, and batteries will likely be dead and nozzles may be clogged. Make sure equipment is in working order and stored appropriately so it’s ready to go if needed.” 

With the right preparations and a focus on clean and healthy buildings, facilities can hopefully mitigate the risks associated with future outbreaks.   

Kassandra Kania is based out of Charlotte, North Carolina and is a frequent contributor to Facility Cleaning Decisions.