Hand Tools: Cleaning Schools One Floor At A Time
At The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Ga., and in schools across this country, the appearance of each classroom, hallway, restroom, cafeteria and gymnasium is vital to the overall perception of a community's educational system.
"I stress to my staff that it doesn't matter if you have a good faculty, athletic department or a good anything else. If we do not present a clean environment, parents of potential students will not allow their children to attend our school," says Larry Smith, Westminster's environmental services manager.
Mike Loftus, custodial manager of the Waterloo Community School District in Waterloo, Iowa, agrees and reminds his staff that they are an important part of the educational process.
"The cleanliness of our schools directly affects the attitudes of staff and students when they enter the building," he says.
School custodians, however, are not cleaning for appearance alone. They are cleaning to control dust, allergens, bacteria and other airborne contaminates. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools Program states that "poor maintenance of school environments can cause or intensify illness among children and teachers, resulting in higher rates of absenteeism, less time in the classroom and ultimately, reduced academic achievement."
In 2008, the Minnesota Department of Health published "Clean, Indoor Environmental Quality and Health: A Review of Scientific Literature," a report that correlated levels of allergens in settled dust and the air in classrooms to respiratory illnesses such as asthma, allergies and upper respiratory symptoms. The report concludes that individuals with allergic asthma and allergic rhinitis are the primary group of school occupants who are susceptible to allergens that accumulate in schools.
The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that at least 15 to 20 percent of occupants in school buildings may be susceptible to environmental pollutants commonly found in school dust. The study determined that poor IAQ might affect student learning, staff productivity and attendance, while good housekeeping protocols that thoroughly remove dust from surfaces have both health and comfort benefits.
From The Ground Up
Improving the air quality and the health and safety of a school building's occupants starts at the ground level with clean floors and the tools to keep them that way.
"In a school environment, it is paramount that we control bacteria and keep our floors free of small debris, dust and allergens," says Loftus.
In addition to the health benefits, properly maintaining floors will play a pivotal role in appearance of clean. After all, floors and stairs are the first thing visitors see when they enter a facility.
"No one walks into a building and looks up at the ceiling unless they are in the Sistine Chapel," says Bob Riccardino, facilities manager at The Catherine Cook School in Chicago.
Another concern is the damage dirt can cause to a floor's finish, requiring stripping and refinishing more often than expected.
"Particles of dust can deteriorate a floor's finish," says Riccardino. "It's like gravel grinding into a polished surface."
Removing these fine particles is easy if using the right tools. According to Smith, the most efficient and effective tool for the job is the microfiber mop.
"I find that for both wet and dry mopping, microfiber is — hands down — the best tool," he says.
Smith goes on to say that compared to cotton or looped mops, microfiber removes twice the dirt and dust because the microfibers attract dirt.
"A microfiber dry mop eliminates the use of dust mop chemicals, addresses bacterial control issues and generally collects more dirt than a conventional dust mop," adds Loftus. In his opinion, dry microfiber mops are also much easier to maintain than cotton mops.
In addition to dry mopping, microfiber proves beneficial when used as a wet mop. Smith observed a demonstration where after mopping with the cotton mop, the same area was mopped again with a microfiber mop. The microfiber picked up a considerable amount of dirt left behind after the initial cleaning, demonstrating its effectiveness. Microfiber mops also help eliminate cross-contamination because new pads are replaced easily after mopping each room or area.
"When you have a traditional bucket and wringer, you have clean water, but as soon as you mop an area and dip the used mop into the bucket, you contaminate the water and spread germs," says Smith.
The durability of microfiber is also a plus for maintenance budgets. A microfiber mop can be washed at least 500 times before replacing it.
"String mops start to fall apart after a limited amount of washings," says Riccardino. "They can also hold bacteria and odors."
One popular microfiber manufacturer lists these attributes of microfiber mops:
- Longer life span — The microfiber mop has a longer life span than a cotton mop because it is made of polyester and polyamide fibers. Microfiber can be washed with plain water and it retains its shape better than the cotton mop.
- Savings — Microfiber mops do not require the use of expensive cleaning chemicals. They can clean using plain water with equal output.
- No need to wring repeatedly — This mop has high water retention. Users can clean larger areas in less time because there is less stopping to wring.
- Highly absorbent — Microfiber can absorb 98 percent of moisture compared with 70 percent absorbed by a conventional cotton cloth.
Wet or dry, microfiber mops are the first choice for most schools. If cost is a consideration, schools can conduct an analysis comparing mop prices, life usage, and water and disinfectant amounts.
"Although microfiber mops may cost a few pennies more, they last 10 times longer, which, in turn, saves a considerable amount of money," explains Smith.
Riccardino says the use of microfiber mops saves time as well.
"Microfiber mops give employees much more versatility by enabling them to dust on different levels," he says. "If you are dry dusting the gym floor and see dust on a window ledge or a light, all areas can be cleaned with the same mop by adjusting the handle. A couple of jobs can be completed with a microfiber mop in the same time it would take to walk back to the environmental services closet to get another tool."
The Ergonomics Of Mopping
Custodial managers are seeing a correlation between mopping with microfiber products and a reduction of injuries including back sprains. According to the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Technical Manual, back disorders can develop gradually as a result of microtrauma brought about by repetitive activity over time, or can be the product of a single traumatic event. The agency reports that back disorders are one of the leading causes of disability for people in their working years and afflict more than 600,000 employees each year at a cost of about $50 billion.
OSHA predicts that the frequency and economic impact of back injuries and disorders on the work force are expected to increase over the next several decades as the average age of the work force increases and medical cost go up.
To minimize and/or prevent injury, Waterloo Community School District maintenance employees use adjustable, ergonomic handles that swivel 360 degrees.
"The handles are bent, which minimizes the force to use it," says Loftus. "Overall, I think the people who have never worked with other handles prefer the ergonomic design. Although people using straight mop handles for years do not particularly care for the new design because it requires a different motion."
Riccardino says the fit of the handle's grip has more cushioning, which makes it friendlier to the hand, as well as the back.
"After an eight-hour shift, our employees appreciate the newer design," he says.
Smith notes that the microfiber mop handles adjust to the height of each user, making it easier to mop.
"This prevents the user from having to reach as far while mopping," he adds.
Keep The Old
Although there are benefits to industry advancements, don't count out traditional tried-and-true products. In fact, the Catherine Cook School still prefers brooms and string mops for certain applications.
"We use brooms for cleaning small areas," says Riccardino. "We don't exceed a four-foot range because they push dirt into the air when used in larger areas."
Riccardino's staff also uses brooms to remove items stuck to the floor.
"The stiff bristles of a broom are effective in scraping candy off a floor with minimal scratching," he says.
And when tackling substantial spills at The Catherine Cook School, traditional string mops are the top choice.
"A string mop has more depth to it so it is more absorbent on larger spills," says Riccardino, who notes that smaller spills are no match for microfiber mops.
Catherine Dinsmore is a freelance writer based in Watertown, Conn.
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