colorful microfiber mop strands texture

Accidentally cross-contaminating is easy but there are tools and processes distributors can recommend to help prevent it. Sawchuk lists a few off the bat.  

“Start by training customers not to double dip mops or cloths,” he says. “They should also know to fold cleaning cloths into quadrants and wipe in one direction instead of back and forth — and to change to a new quadrant when required.”  

For the floor, Sawchuk favors upgrading to a double-compartment mop bucket. An even better choice would be an “autoscrubber or no-touch/spray/agitate/vacuum/dry equipment. And be sure customers keep their autoscrubber and the floor of the custodial closet clean,” he adds. 

Dyess agrees that training end users to keep tools and equipment clean is critical in preventing cross-contamination, but she also points to another, simpler fact.  

“One of the best things people can do to help prevent cross-contamination is simply washing their hands,” she says. “Depending on what kinds of germs or bacteria frontline workers might be exposed to, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves or masks should also be recommended.” 

Of course, just selling customers on PPE isn’t enough to prevent the spread of bacteria. Workers must also be trained on the right way to put on and remove PPE.  

“It’s called ‘donning’ and ‘doffing’ and if frontline workers do it wrong, they may accidentally contaminate their hands,” says Thomas.  

Color coding tools is another way distributors can help customers prevent cross-contamination. It’s as simple as segregating tools by task and clearly identifying each task by color. This makes it easier to keep the most dangerous restroom pathogens in the restroom and not accidentally move them through the facility.  

“Color coding makes it easier to clean and less likely to cross-contaminate,” says Sawchuk. But he offers a caveat. “It only works when there has been effective education and training,” which is a clear opportunity for distributors. 

That means ensuring everyone knows what the colors mean and where to use them. While there is no universal standard, most systems use hotter colors for the higher risk areas. This means red cloths, mops and properly labeled chemicals are used on toilets, urinals and restroom floors. Yellow options are for restroom sinks and mirrors. Green tools are for food service areas and blue–labeled products are for general, low risk areas.  

“Using color-coded tools projects a more professional appearance to the occupants and users of the facilities, especially when they understand why it is being done,” says Sawchuk. But remember that these are general guidelines. Distributors should be aware that individual facility or building service contractor customers may use their own bespoke color-coding system.  

In addition to recommending appropriate tools, end user customers must be trained on the suitable care of those tools. For example, properly laundering microfiber cloths and mops is crucial to preventing cross-contamination. However, this simple act may be one of the biggest contributors to accidental cross-contamination, according to Dyess. 

“Microfiber mops [and cloths] need to be washed and dried following very specific requirements to maintain their optimal condition,” she says. “Something as seemingly minor as washing at the wrong temperature can permanently damage the microfibers and allow bacteria or debris to remain in the mops. The laundered mop could look clean to the human eye but still be harboring things that contribute to cross-contamination.”   

To combat this, many distributors suggest customers use single-use mops and wipes for cleaning facilities where reducing cross-contamination is critical, such as hospitals, schools, restaurants, and more.  

“Because the mop or wipe is disposed of after use, it helps eliminate the question that laundered versions might present: ‘Is there something still lingering in this?’” she says.  

Dyess also suggests customers pay attention to the condition of the cleaning hardware, such as backer plates, mop frames and handles. If these tools become nicked or hook-and-loop strips get clogged with fibers, the chances of cross-contamination could increase. 

Measuring Success 

Remembering best practices around cross-contamination and how to avoid it can be difficult for busy end users trying to finish jobs as quickly as possible. That’s why Thomas recommends distributors host refresher training sessions regularly, and encourage customers to conduct their own training every couple of weeks.  

“Training has to happen more than just once a year,” he says. “People retain more and adhere to best practices when they get short, frequent reminder sessions.” 

As an example of workers in need of training, Thomas recalls recently observing six different frontline workers disinfecting surfaces. He says all six were doing something different, but worse than that, they were all doing it wrong.  

Cross-contamination unfortunately happens easily and can potentially be deadly. To ensure that efforts to avoid it are working, Sawchuk suggests generating and analyzing the data.  

“Distributors should be prepared to assist end user customers who are interested in driving constant improvements by helping them track, report, monitor, and act on verification data,” he says. “Based on this data, distributors and help suggest the adjustment of custodial tools, equipment, cleaning and disinfecting chemicals, processes/procedures, timing, and frequencies that will result in changes in the verification data of cleaning results.”  

Amy Milshtein is a freelancer based in Portland, Oregon. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance. 

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Tips and Tricks for Keeping Environments Safe and Clean