Product labels, tech sheets and SDSs should provide everything managers need to know to train workers on the proper use of chemicals. This will then determine how effective chemicals are.

"You must follow the rules," adds Fellows.

This includes paying attention to dwell times. Depending on what the label says, most disinfectants must sit on a surface anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes in order to disinfect the stated pathogens. Often, custodians do not wait this long before wiping it off, meaning the disinfectant won't be effective.

"It's critical to follow dwell times (also known as wet time or contact time) because if workers don't, they can be contributing to superbug development," says Sawchuk. "If the label recommends a 10-minute contact time and they wait just eight minutes, the weakest pathogens are probably dead. But the ones that survive will create superbugs that can outlive disinfection."

Cleaning workers who are aware of dwell time may spray every surface with disinfectant, then wait the required time before wiping it off. Depending on the technique, this too can be in error, Fellows adds.

"When we use spray bottles to apply disinfectant, 40-60 percent of the surface stays dry; the disinfectant never touches it," he says.

Hicks calls this method spray and pray.

"The proper way to disinfect is to take a microfiber cloth folded into quarters, wet the cloth with disinfectant, then wet the surface enough that it stays wet for the duration of the recommended dwell time," he says.

Hicks also recommends checking dilution control systems periodically to ensure proper dilution of chemicals. Let's say a quat disinfectant is effective at 600 parts per million. If no one checks the system, workers might get 300 parts per million instead. If that's happening, weakened disinfectants are being used on surfaces and kill claims are not being met.

"Microorganisms then learn to resist that disinfectant and you cannot kill them," Hicks emphasizes.

Prioritize Training

There is a lot to remember, which is why Fellows recommends managers start by writing standard operating procedures (SOP) that clearly outline products, procedures and frequencies for using chemicals. After that, follow up with demonstrations of the written process. Later, supervisors can check in to make sure custodians continue following the SOPs.

"Every janitor should also have a copy of the steps," Fellows stresses. "People cannot remember everything, especially if it's a new process."

He also recommends periodically checking in on teams and watching workers perform functions. It's a great opportunity to offer training immediately if steps are being overlooked.

"It takes 90 days to form a habit," says Fellows. "Old habits will kick in if you don't consistently reinforce these new skills."

If management can't observe the work being done live, Hicks suggests two common monitoring practices: managers can mark the surfaces before cleaning with a fluorescent marker, then use a black light to see if cleaning removed the mark — or, they can use an ATP meter to measure soil levels before and after cleaning.

"We need to get back to basics and do a thorough job of cleaning, then measure our processes, our products and our people," says Hicks.

But he insists that observation also must be part of the puzzle.

"If you don't observe how they're doing things, you will measure outcomes and not know why they failed the inspection, where cleaning went wrong and what's broken," he says. "Maybe they don't have the right products or tools for the job. Maybe they lack the time to do things properly. Or maybe they need more training."

A lot of attention was given to chemicals over the last two years, but it's time to get back to basics. Select the right products for the job, develop an SOP, deliver training and follow up with a quality assurance initiative to measure results. When needed, make adjustments to ensure the team uses products correctly to clean, sanitize and disinfect surfaces.

Ronnie Wendt is a freelance writer and owner of In Good Company Communications in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

previous page of this article:
Labels Key To Selecting Disinfectants