A pencil and paper for notes

By Heidi Wilcox

There are so many confusing things being told to everyone on what to do about the coronavirus. Yet like other infectious disease outbreaks, it can be handled if we take the time to set up processes and procedures, update training (and actually complete it) and reevaluate chemical selection and equipment. 

Generally, the best practices for dealing with infectious outbreaks of any kind are to clean first, then sanitize and disinfect. As a microbiologist that works in the commercial cleaning industry, I have collected a lot of data that shows if we clean and remove up to 90 percent of soils and pathogens on a surface, we can then kill the last 10 percent — which is important — with an effective less-toxic sanitizer or disinfectant. 

For cleaning, I'd say at the minimum facilities should use third-party certified products with no sanitizers and disinfectant in them to clean glass, windows, stainless, hard surfaces and floors. Or you can try on-site generation (OSG) products, such as aqueous ozone. 

For sanitizing and disinfecting, the less-toxic disinfectant on the commercial cleaning market is hypochlorous acid, also know as HOCl. 

You can also use other disinfectants such as hydrogen peroxides and the old standbys — but much more toxic — options of quaternary ammonium compounds and/or chlorine bleach. I don’t recommend these, but they can be used. 

The only one that should be used with electrostatics is hypochlorous acid due to its low toxicity and neutral pH. Any other disinfectant should be applied by hand which is time consuming and allows for a higher risk of exposure to the workers and can pollute indoor air quality.

The steps you can do today to help your team and department get ahead of infectious outbreaks like COVID-19, flu, cold and Norovirus are the following:

- Take inventory of what you are using for chemicals and for what purpose.

- See if you can cut down on the number of chemicals you are using.

- Do not use any cleaners that are not third-party certified, as these certifications give you a level of trust knowing they have been reviewed for major toxicity issues like carcinogenicity and have had some performance testing done.

- Do not use two-in-one cleaners and disinfectants. They don’t work well for either job.

- Look at the way you are cleaning and see if you can do things more efficiently and ergonomically , and with tools that will clean better and easier.

- If you don’t have standard operating procedures written up, write them.

- Do more training and bring in an expert if you must. Don’t let pride get in the way.

- Look into what you are using for sanitizing and disinfecting, check on the chemicals that are doing the killing and see what issues there are with them. 

- Think bigger. Think sustainability, toxicity, skin, eye and respiratory irritation, asthma and ergonomics. Invest in your system. The time is now.

- Make a case and ask for money now while the crisis with COVID-19 will help get it for you.

- Look at technology to save you time, like spray-and-vac machines and/or electrostatic sprayers.

- Put a system together with documentation and training. You may not have to worry about any infection ever if you put in the work. 

Feel free to email me directly at heidi@wilcoxevs.com with any questions.

Heidi Wilcox

Heidi Wilcox is an applied microbiologist, presenter, educator and trainer in the cleaning industry. She is also the president and founder of Wilcox EVS, a consultancy specializing in “cleaning and disinfecting for health.” Working in the worlds of science, engineering and commercial cleaning, Heidi examines challenges within facilities and provides solutions to streamline processes and protocols. She advocates for reduced use of synthetic chemicals, which will also decrease hazards and exposures to staff and building occupants. Heidi has been integral in working with facilities to set up proactive infection/mitigation protocols for infection control.