Disinfectant wipes may be useful to help combat germs during the day, but offering them can get touchy. Some teachers unions would prefer the educators leave cleaning for the custodial crew, but custodians can certainly use the help with interim cleaning throughout the day.

In fact, Dr. Gerba’s research indicates that interim cleaning can reduce germs such as E. coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, streptococcus, salmonella and staphylococcus aureus. Wiping surfaces with disinfecting wipes was found to reduce bacterial levels by up to 99 percent.

But Tierno points out that not all disinfectant wipes are created equal. Some have longer kill claims than others, which isn’t practical in a busy school. But even so, they can provide some protection.

“Anything that uses friction reduces microorganisms,” he explains. “People get sick based on inoculation size, so anything that cuts down on inoculation size helps.”

When it comes to chemicals, Tierno recommends either a quaternary disinfectant or a bleach/water solution.

“The best product is bleach, but you say the word bleach and the world goes a little whacky,” he says. “But the fact is that chlorine is a very effective disinfectant. It can kill the polio virus and hardy enteroviruses.”

He advises using a bleach solution for food prep areas and areas commonly touched by large numbers of people. 

Tierno asserts he’s not talking about a “high concentration” but rather one part bleach to 19 parts water. A strong enough solution, he says, to kill the bugs that need to be killed, but not so strong that the smell is overpowering. At that dilution it doesn’t damage surfaces.

Slocum had once found success using hydrogen peroxide, saying the efficacy was unparalleled and had just a three- to five-minute dwell time. But the dilution ratio of one part chemical to 16 parts water made it cost prohibitive.

Today he uses quaternary ammonium (quat) products to disinfect schools.

“The quat’s dilution ratio is one part chemical to 64 parts water,” he says. “That’s a little more budget friendly.”

Wilcox adds, though, that departments should be careful of how much germ-killing chemical they use.

“Disinfection does not need to be done in a school unless there is a blood spill or possibly in Pre-K classes where there may be diaper changes,” she says.

Once schools determine appropriate chemicals, managers must focus on equipment and cleaning processes.

District 67 implemented a color-coded microfiber cleaning system to keep cross-contamination down. Custodial staffs utilize a red cloth for restroom fixtures, urinals and toilets; a blue cloth for glass; and a green one for general purpose cleaning.

Wilcox adds that “a good microfiber system can remove more than 90 percent of the soils and microbes on a surface.”

With touch-points under control, managers should turn their focus to equipment designed to keep infections at bay. HEPA filter vacuums keep indoor air quality high, while microfiber mopping and autoscrubbers keep floors clean.

One piece of equipment that can help schools is a water-based, steam cleaning system, says Tierno. 

“Steam systems are easy to use and do a good job of killing germs,” he says. “Chemicals, like quats, can be applied at night when the children are not there, but if there’s a classroom where a student vomited, a custodian can quickly and safely clean that up during the day.”

Though all of these measures will do volumes to keep infections under control in the school system, Tierno does come back to his first assertion: No matter what the custodial team does, it’s a moot point if children are not taught how to prevent infection. 

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

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