The “cleanability” of any material or design element in a healthcare setting is critical.

“Hospitals don’t really have a tremendous amount of money or time to devote to cleaning a room,” says Stroupe. “You have to make it as easy as possible to address cleaning.”

In addition, the materials need to be able to withstand the frequent use of strong chemicals.

“Some of the disinfectant agents are pretty harsh,” Stroupe adds. 

When it comes to cleaning the hard surfaces used in healthcare environments, the CDC identified three necessary attributes:
• The surfaces should be compatible with a cleaning agent.
• Surfaces should be able to withstand the “wet time,” or dwell time chemicals are required to remain on the surface.
• Finally, the surface should be able to hold up under the rubbing/friction required for cleaning.

Waggener adds that before recommending a particular material, she and her colleagues often check how the cleaning protocol tested by the manufacturer of a product compares to that used by the facility cleaning staff.

“If the two pair up, the designers can be fairly confident that the material will perform well once it’s installed and cleaned in the facility,” she says. In cases where the cleaning staff lacks the equipment required to appropriately clean a certain type of floor covering or counter surface, Waggener and her colleagues might work with them to obtain it. 

At times, the cleaning procedures themselves may require updating, says Dellinger.

It often doesn’t make sense to continue with a particular cleaning procedure or solution as materials change and knowledge of effective sanitation advances. For instance, products with fewer toxins may be available, although perhaps at a higher cost or only with a special request.

Even so, “you want it to be right for infection control and safety,” adds Dellinger.

Creating a healthcare environment that aids in infection control, and also is safe, cost-effective and conducive to patients’ healing is a challenge. One key to achieving these various goals is to include the environmental services manager in discussions regarding the selection of materials, Dickey says.

They can share their knowledge of various materials’ abilities to withstand the cleaning needed to reduce the risk of infections and remain in good shape. Without such discussions, a material might be chosen because it looks nice initially, but then is unable to hold up over time. 

KAREN KROLL is a freelance writer based in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

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Surfaces That Help An Infection Control Program