Cleaning with technology, such as microfiber and hands-free restroom systems, can remove roughly 90 percent of soils and germs on surfaces. This has been seen in testing with ATP equipment in the field and microbial methods in a lab setting. This is an excellent result and one that is needed before the step of killing potentially hazardous microbial agents or germs can be accomplished.

Ten percent of remaining soils may not seem like a lot. Many may ask why we have to do a kill/infection control/mitigation step if we are removing 90 percent already? Isn’t this enough?

In some cases, it can be — maybe when there is no infectious outbreak, or it is not cold and flu season. But in a year such as this one, where the flu season started early in October and will last until May, leaving that 10 percent could be the difference between illness or not.

Microorganisms such as germs or pathogens can’t be seen by the naked eye. Many times, there are hundreds of millions, or even billions of organisms in a small area. Therefore, removing 90 percent is a great start done by cleaning. The cleaning removed soils that germs can hide under, as well as removed many of the germs themselves. But remember that 10 percent of a billion is still millions of germs. Do you want to leave that many behind? You shouldn’t. It takes just one to get sick and many germs can live for days or longer on surfaces.

This is where the killing comes in. Sanitizers and disinfectants are products that go through the EPA to verify the kill claim. The EPA then gives those that pass an EPA registration number that says to a customer that the product kills the organisms it says it kills in the concentration and time indicated on labels. The directions on a product are precise and should be followed as all the parameters of concentration, dwell time and what it kills are very important to proper use and success.

Products used for sanitizing and disinfecting are registered as pesticides because they kill. There are different classes of chemicals that are registered as sanitizers and disinfectants and products should be selected to kill the most common types of germs seen in the facility.

If possible, pick a product that is less toxic to workers, indoor air quality and the environment, as well as one that can be both a sanitizer and a disinfectant, depending on the concentration used. This way departments will need to purchase only one product to do both jobs.

Two-in-one products such as disinfectant cleaners are not recommended. These products are generally used as a cleaner — spray and wipe. This does not leave the product on the surface long enough to kill anything fully.

To be fully protected, the cleaning and removal process should be done with a third-party certified, neutral/all-purpose cleaner. The killing part of the process should be done with the correct chemical sanitizers or disinfectants and tools.

Some disinfectants can cause or exacerbate asthma. Some can damage materials in your facility. And some can harm the environment. No matter how “less toxic” sanitizers and disinfectants are, personal protective equipment such as gloves, glasses or goggles should be used by all workers.

These chemicals should also be used as little as possible — only where needed and in the lowest concentration possible. If you don’t know what to use where, or how, contact an industry expert to help with training and procedures for the facility.

So, while restrooms can be hard to clean and can pose many issues, a good two-step cleaning process can  help. It is the best way to ensure due diligence in the facility and protect workers as well as the public.

No one can live in a bubble and stop everyone from getting sick, but in the commercial cleaning industry, there has been great strides in green cleaning, technology and sustainability. This year has taught us that we need to do more in the area of infection control and mitigation to protect public health. 

HEIDI WILCOX, M.Sc., has a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology and Chemistry, a master’s in Environmental Engineering and is finishing up a doctorate in Toxics Use Reduction and Cleaner Production. She serves as the founder and president of WILCOX EVS Solutions, Haberville, Massachusetts, a company specializing in helping facilities implement green cleaning and infection control systems, as well as understanding new and innovative technologies in the commercial cleaning industry.

previous page of this article:
Removing Soils From Public Restrooms