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Cleaning Up the Misconceptions

Updated: May 6

Facilities professionals should be knowledgeable about janitorial best practices.


By Scott Mason

While always an essential part of any facilities management operation, there has been an increased focus on cleaning and janitorial services in recent years. Consumers and employees are more cognizant of the perceived cleanliness of a store, meaning the FM has the responsibility to ensure their properties meet the growing standards.

Amanda Stephen, Superclean Service Company, Inc.
Amanda Stephen, Superclean Service Company, Inc.

Cleaning has never been a glamorous area of FM, and as a result, there are many misconceptions surrounding the industry and best practices. To help set the record straight, Amanda Stephen, Senior Manager of Business Development at Superclean Service Company, Inc., tackled five common statements about the cleaning and janitorial industry to let fellow FM professionals know the veracity of these claims.


Claim 1: You do not need to both clean and disinfect your facility.


FICTION: While what we think of as cleaning removes the first layer of dirt and grime, most standard cleaning processes and products do not disinfect, leaving behind potentially harmful germs. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the first step.


“You have to break through the first layer to get to the surface holding the impurities,” Stephen explained. “You can't just spray your disinfectant on top of the dirt and hope it will get down to that second layer.”


Claim 2: High-traffic areas actually harbor more bacteria and germs than bathrooms.


FACT: A study from the University of Arizona found that the average worker’s desktop has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat — a shocking finding that shifts perceptions on where cleaning and disinfecting are needed most in a facility.  


“Think about it: When did you last disinfect your desk?” Stephen asked. “Your janitorial provider is likely not cleaning that surface because of the clutter. Your computer, notebooks, pens and pads are usually strewn across your work surface. It's rarely clear enough to be cleaned.”


Some germs and bacteria survive for longer periods on certain surfaces. Cold germs can live on surfaces for up to one week, and viruses like E. coli and salmonella can live on hard surfaces for up to four hours. This means facilities professionals should make a concerted effort to keep some lesser-thought-about areas clean.


Claim 3: Cleaning products with harsher chemicals work better.


FICTION: Contrary to preconceived notions, cleaning products with a more potent chemical makeup may not be the best option for the area you wish to sanitize. “Some people think more disinfectant or chemicals equate to more killing power, and that's just not true,” Stephen said.


Different cleaning options are available depending on the surface and how often it’s being touched. “Sometimes, all you need is a fairly simple mixture of regular household cleaning products to do the job,” Stephen added.


With over 10,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-certified cleaning products on the market, Stephen recommends that facilities professionals thoroughly read labels to ensure they’re using them as intended. These products may also have different dilution ratios depending on how deep of a clean they’re aiming to perform.


Claim 4: Facilities professionals must understand proper disinfectant dwell times. 


FACT: Trained janitorial professionals know that chemical cleaners have a specific dwell time, or an amount of time to sit undisturbed on surfaces, in order to work properly. “Most EPA-registered disinfectants have a contact time of 10 minutes,” Stephen explained. “At a minimum, four minutes or less is the time the disinfectant needs to sit on a surface to actually combat a particular pathogen.”


Most people will instinctively wipe the area down immediately after spraying a cleaner on a surface, but you will not get the full suite of benefits for your facility. “While it likely did something in that flash of time that it was on the surface, it didn't sit there for nearly long enough,” Stephen said. “If you read the labels of your products, you’d be surprised at how long they need to dwell before full effectiveness is achieved.”


Claim 5: Janitorial work requires minimal skill and training.


FICTION: It’s well past time to abandon any notions that janitorial services is an unskilled labor trade. As Stephen points out, a deep understanding is needed to perform any janitorial work effectively. “Understanding the chemistry of the products you're working with is not something everybody knows and understands,” she said. “There are a lot of processes to cleaning properly. Cleaning staff must know how to use the tools and equipment correctly to ensure effectiveness and safety.”


Stephen also mentioned the training that janitorial staff undertake to learn the trade. “We spend a great deal of time training our janitorial crews and technicians on how to use equipment and products properly, safely and in various areas.”


The perceived and actual cleanliness of a building cannot be understated. “We've always been cleaning for the health and safety of the building occupants,” Stephen said. “It is paramount. Its importance is more widely known today, but it’s definitely something that we like to keep reiterating.”

Learn how to separate fact from fallacy in facilities management cleaning by watching the recent Virtual Learning Experience featuring Amanda Stephens, Catherine Barnes and Jason Booher.

Check out ConnexFM's Practical Approaches: Janitorial for more facilities cleaning education.

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