H1N1 (a contagious virus also known as “swine flu”) has sparked a flurry of media attention, roused public alarm and sent cleaning managers scrambling to ease public fears about cleanliness.

“With all the media attention H1N1 is receiving, people are very aware and concerned,” says Mike Liscio, vice president of sales for the Clark Products New Jersey Division in Carteret, NJ.

The recent scare has also allowed managers the opportunity to develop policies for proper cleaning and then train the staff to follow them properly. Problems like H1N1, avian flu and SARS are a great opportunity for housekeeping departments and building service contractors to re-evaluate and update their policies for pandemic prevention, as well as how to properly deal with cross-contamination (the spread of bacteria from one person to another).

When dealing with a pandemic, disinfectants are an essential part of the cleaning procedures. These products reduce bacteria by 99 percent and enhance the health of those living, working or visiting in various facilities.

Proper Usage And Application
Disinfectants are designed to kill a wide range of bacteria and viruses such as H1N1. To use them properly, cleaning objectives must be identified and targeted by the cleaning program, says Paul Ross, president of Central Paper Co., Birmingham, Ala.

“Disinfectants are important to use in office buildings, healthcare facilities and schools,” Ross says. “Because many people are located in these facilities, you want to kill the germs that they are exposed to and use the proper product to disinfect commonly touched surfaces.”

Phenolic disinfectants, also known as phenols, are bacterial, fungicidal and tuberculocidal disinfectants effective against enveloped viruses. They’re used where blood and body fluids are present, and destroy odor-causing bacteria on surfaces, but can be corrosive.

Quat (quaternary ammonium chloride) disinfectants are used on bloodborne pathogens and are effective in destroying viruses and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

“In the past, there has been an issue with harsh chemical disinfectants — especially with phenolics,” says Shawn Benjamin, vice president of sales at Sikes Paper Co., Atlanta. “Because of that, I believe the cleaning industry has gone more to quats.”

Regardless of which disinfectant is used, it is important for cleaners to remember that proper application of disinfectants is the key to their effectiveness.

“Most people will utilize a cloth or rag for disinfecting contact surfaces like door knobs, rails or handles,” says Paul Ross, president of Central Paper Co., Birmingham, Ala. “You can use spray bottles, but you need to apply the disinfectant in a course or stream spray instead of a mist spray. A mist disperses particles in the air and can cause respiratory problems.”

Spraying the product directly onto a rag or mop gives the cleaner control of where the disinfectant goes and produces less waste, which serve the best interests of cleaners and building occupants.

Preventing Cross-Contamination
To calm public fears further and properly implement a pandemic plan, cleaners must target high-traffic areas within the facility and use disinfectants to minimize the potential for cross-contamination.

Restrooms can be a breeding ground for bacteria and should be a priority for cleaning crews implementing a pandemic plan. Cleaning frequencies should be established based on traffic; cleaning once a day may be enough for a little-used office restroom, while hourly cleanings may be needed for an airport facility.

To avoid spreading germs within a restroom, housekeepers should clean the space from top to bottom and from non-acute to acute areas.

“You can use the same towel to wipe the sink and then go towards a urinal but you never want to go the other way,” says Joshua Kraft, sales manager and education coordinator for Bruco Inc., in Billings, Mont. “Your procedure in the cleaning process is more important to the cross-contamination issue than the tools you choose.”

One of the most important procedural issues is dwell time. A disinfectant cleaner, which kills germs as well as cleans, is a must-use chemical for a restroom. In fact, some facilities find a multipurpose disinfectant cleaner can handle all the cleaning duties in a restroom. To do its job correctly, the product must sit on the surface for a specific time. Just spraying and wiping doesn’t give the chemical the time it needs to kill 99 percent of bacteria.

“To kill germs, a disinfectant needs to fight the battle for about 10 minutes,” Liscio says. “If a cleaning person only allows the product to sit for 5 minutes, it’s not as effective. Dwell time is key to disinfecting.”

To achieve necessary dwell time, cleaners can apply the chemical as they move around the restroom (following the top-to-bottom method). By the time they are finished, they can return to where they started to wipe up the wet chemical. In smaller facilities, cleaners may need to disinfect the men’s restroom and let it sit while they work on the women’s restroom, and vice versa.

Disinfectants must also be diluted properly and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires special procedures for their handling, use and disposal. That’s why many facilities use chemical dispensing systems that properly dilute the chemical to take away any guesswork. Cleaners should also be instructed to wear personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks, to protect themselves when handling disinfectants. Many contain chemicals that can be harsh, corrosive and dangerous if touched or inhaled.

Identifying proper disinfectant products and implementing them accurately into the cleaning program will help cleaners reduce the threat of a pandemic, as well as calm fears among building occupants. This is especially important as media attention grows surrounding H1N1. Now, more than ever, consumers will depend on cleaners to maintain standard levels of clean and properly protect building occupants from the spread of bacteria and viruses.