The final part of this three-part article focuses on educating students, staff and cleaning crews.

K-12 schools and universities interested in keeping their students healthy can start by outlining clear policies. First and foremost, it’s important to promote proper hygiene by everyone in the building.

“Educate everyone about how diseases are spread,” says Bishop. “Students and staff who are feeling sick should be sent home. Hand washing and hand washing education needs to be prioritized as well as respiratory hygiene.”

Distributors and cleaning crews should make soap and towels or hand dryers available at every sink, and provide hand-sanitizing stations in high-touch areas where hand washing isn’t readily available. Signage with instructions should be displayed near sinks. Distributors can suggest installing kid-friendly dispensers to encourage participation from younger students.

It’s also critical to create a thorough cleaning program that identifies the best products and procedures.

“That procedure should clearly outline which surfaces need to be disinfected, what tools need to be used to perform these tasks, how the tools are maintained so they are cleaning, not polluting, devices, and how often that task needs to be performed,” says Walker.

Experts agree schools should use dual-bucket cleaning systems that keep dirty and clean water separate, as well as microfiber mops and cloths. Custodial staffs should also have cleanup kits for dealing with bodily fluids, and receive proper education on dealing with such spills. If a school’s focus is on cleaning for health, green products are the safest choice, says Bishop.

Every surface in the school should be cleaned regularly. Most important, however, are areas where cross-contamination is likely. That means any high-touch point that easily allows for germs and infections to be transferred from person to person.

“It just takes one person not washing their hands properly,” says Hicks. “They drink at the fountain or touch a doorknob and leave germs behind, and then another person comes along and picks it up and touches their eyes or nose and it’s easily introduced into their body.”

Obviously, restrooms are hot spots for contamination and should be cleaned with the greatest frequency. It’s important to not overlook small details, such as the toilet flush lever, the inside lock on stalls or push plates on exit doors.

Also critical are all tabletops in the building, including those in the cafeteria, library and classrooms. Gerba’s studies have found these surfaces to be most likely to have a build-up of germs that can cause Norovirus, influenza, parainfluenza and MRSA.

“Interestingly, school teachers have the germiest desks of all professions we have studied,” says Gerba. “The teacher’s desk seems to be the worst desk in the school.”

Other troublesome hot spots in a school include doorknobs, pencil sharpeners, keyboards, water fountain buttons, telephones and switch plates.

At most times, regular cleaning of all surfaces with general cleaning agents is enough, says Bishop. Things change, however, when an outbreak of any illness occurs.

“During these times, schools should increase cleaning frequency and then additionally add sanitizing or disinfecting of high-touch point areas,” he says. Notable exceptions include restrooms and food and health services areas, which should be disinfected regularly.

Disinfectants are an important disease-fighting tool in the janitor’s arsenal. Schools should use EPA-registered quatinary-based products that include a Norovirus kill claim.

“We found in one study that the use of a quat-based disposable disinfecting wipe reduced school absenteeism by 50 percent during the school year,” says Gerba.

The key to disinfectants is to avoid overuse and to use them correctly. That means custodians must be well-trained on the proper dilution and dwell times of these products.

Also, disinfectants should only be used after surfaces have first been cleaned. Relying on two-in-one products that claim to both clean and disinfect can be dangerous, says Hicks.

“If we did a better job of cleaning surfaces with a general cleaner and a microfiber cloth, then whatever disinfectant you use after that has a much better chance of killing the pathogens as it should,” he says. “Too often we overload it with the soil on the surface and the disinfecting that’s trying to kill Norovirus is too busy fighting the soil to do the killing.”

Finally, perhaps the most important thing school administrators and distributors can do is to empower custodial staffs by frequently telling them the important role they play in keeping the school community healthy. Remind them that cleaning is not just about appearance; it is about health.

“That’s where we need to go in this world,” says Hicks. “Give people the right products to use, the right training and education, and the right amount of time to do their tasks. Then we will get healthy surfaces, rather than just clean-appearing surfaces.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.

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Teaching Proper Cleaning Techniques For Schools