Cleaning various surfaces with standard detergent and water is often considered adequate. The surface appears clean and we assume many of the so-called “germs” have been removed. But applying that hygiene litmus test to certain types of facility operations is not practical — and, more than likely, inviting trouble. Often times, a specific type of disinfectant may be in order.

Soap and water
There are numerous occasions when facility housekeepers can successfully use standard detergents and water in their work. Surfaces that are not contaminated by pathogenic microorganisms represent minimum cross-contamination threat.

According to John Walker, founder of Janitor University and president of ManageMen, Inc., there are various types of facilities that could benefit from cleaning with only standard cleaning detergent and water. But, “detergents must be accurately measured for specific cleaning applications,” he says. “They will be safe and most effective if used correctly.”

If properly applied, detergents can be beneficial to virtually every cleaning program. Industry experts comment that soaps and detergents can be used on any surface that has a limited possibility of spreading disease. The most common of these surfaces is flooring, which seldomly contributes to the spread of bacteria through personal contact.

Before determining which cleaning chemicals are necessary for a job, the cleaning staff should be aware of those areas that are prone to high concentrations of bacteria. These areas can carry a high possibility of spreading dangerous germs throughout a facility and should be cleaned thoroughly, and on a regular basis.

Even though surfaces might look clean, many infectious bacteria can survive for long periods of time if proper disinfecting steps are not taken. If left alone, these contaminated areas often lead to the spread of infection.

Disinfectant required
According to the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), most surfaces in public spaces (i.e. door and faucet handles), touched often by building occupants, can benefit from disinfectant use. Cleaning these areas regularly with disinfectant chemicals will help prevent, and possibly eliminate the potential transmission of bacteria.

To encourage frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas, some states have implemented laws and local health codes outlining where disinfectants must be used when cleaning. “In facilities such as hospitals and restaurants, cleaners are required to disinfect the restroom once a day,” says Steve Spencer, facility specialist at State Farm Insurance.

It is also important for cleaning crews to use disinfectants in places where the population is more susceptible to disease: hospitals, nursing homes and buildings where there are high concentrations of infectious people. These facilities often carry a higher risk of spreading nosocomial infections and should be cleaned thoroughly and on a regular basis.

People who clean in facilities where large numbers of people gather should also focus on the use of disinfectant chemicals when cleaning. The vast amounts of people traveling through these types of facilities increase the risk of spreading germs and disease, and makes the roll of cleaning more challenging. Examples of these types of facilities include schools, health clubs, stadiums, auditoriums, etc.

Surfaces within hotels and other hospitality venues also represent an increased risk of carrying germs because of the traffic moving through on a regular basis. All surfaces in hotel rooms, on check-in counters, and in restrooms, should be cleaned regularly with disinfectant cleaners to help prevent the spread of bacteria.

Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication and membership at the SDA adds that it is important to understand the cleaning needs of the facility before it can be properly disinfected.

Green cleaning
As facilities focus their efforts on green cleaning, chemicals and disinfectants are often one of the first products in the cleaning cart to be evaluated. This product evaluation has spawned an industry debate comparing traditional cleaning chemicals and their green-certified counterparts.

“Contrary to what many people think, chemicals and disinfectants are not the enemy of green,” says Sansoni. “The cleaning industry currently has access to green certified products that are effective at maximizing productivity, while maintaining their environmental benefits.”

Even so, some in-house cleaners argue that green-certified chemicals and disinfectants don’t work as well as their traditional counterparts. Many end-users comment that green products require too much training because of the dilution, mixing and application processes required for their use.

But not all industry professionals agree with the negative perception of green-certified chemicals. In fact, some experts praise manufacturers, who have stepped up product development to respond to the high demands of end-users.

“As facility managers focus on integrating green practices and products into their daily regimen, they should expect cleaners and disinfectants to meet high standards of productivity, effectiveness,and performance, while still being environmentally friendly,” says Sansoni.

“By combining cleaning and disinfecting properties in one product,” he continues, “cleaners have fewer products to handle, resulting in fewer mistakes and a more streamlined daily cleaning process.”

Chemical cutbacks
As the cleaning industry pushes toward more environmentally friendly practices, there is growing buzz that departments are cutting back on their chemical usage. But some experts argue that there has been little action taken.

“I think there is a lot of chatter about using less chemicals,” says Walker. “But I don’t see many people actually doing much about it.”

He adds, though, that there are definite benefits to reducing the amount of chemicals that are used in a facility. “It’s easier to train workers to use fewer chemicals because there is less confusion over misusing one chemical over another.”

One challenge associated with using fewer chemicals is maintaining a certain level of “clean” within a facility. This is why it is so important for cleaning managers to know their facility before implementing a new cleaning program.

Re-evaluating your program
When reassessing their cleaning program, managers should review cleaning methods that will reduce the impact chemicals have on the environment. Incorporating products such as microfiber is a good first step. According to many manufacturers, microfiber technology does not require the use of chemicals and therefore its use has little or no impact on the environment.

End-users should be aware, though, that according to the SDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently does not recognize microfiber products as a successful method for killing or removing any pathogens without the use of chemicals or disinfectants. However, “microfiber products have been a welcomed addition to the cleaning industry and when combined with cleaning chemicals, they can work very well,” says Sansoni.

Departments that waive the advice of experts and choose to implement water-only cleaning methods are well advised to first assess their facility. Not all facilities will benefit from this type of program. As previously mentioned, some cleaning tasks fall under state law and require the use of disinfectants or detergents.

One cleaning task that is regulated is restroom cleaning, which may require one of the highest concentrations of chemicals than any other room in the facility. Many experts refute this, claiming excessive use of any chemical is not required to clean restrooms successfully.

“I would dispute that you need higher chemical use in a restroom,” says Walker. “You would use the same amount of disinfectant on the floors in the bathroom as you would in the hall. Same goes for the walls, counters, mirrors, etc.”

Sansoni adds that proper cleaning isn’t about the amount of chemical you use, but the quality and proper use of the product. “Using an effective cleaner that provides great results with lower usage is the best answer to using fewer chemicals without sacrificing safety.”

Adequately training employees on the proper dilution of chemicals and application requirements will ensure the proper use of the product. “People just need to be better educated,” says Spencer.

Chemical storage is also an important step. It is essential for all cleaning personnel to understand the storage requirements of the various chemicals and disinfectants in their cleaning arsenal. Cleaning managers can work with their distributor for assistance on the proper storage requirements for their particular products.

“You can have the best cleaning program in the world, but if the products are improperly used, mixed or stored, that’s when problems occur,” says Sansoni.

Experts argue that whether departments are using traditional or green-certified products, chemicals and disinfectants are essential to the cleaning industry. As the industry evolves, it will be even more important for cleaning professionals to educate themselves, and their staff, on the varieties of products available.