Commonly-Used Cleaning Techniques
Spread Building Germs
12/01/2014 by Robert Kravitz
the recent concerns about Ebola and with winter flu season now
approaching, this is an opportune time for facility managers and
administrators of industrial locations to hear about a 40-year-old study
that is as relevant today as it was when it was published back in 1971.
The study involved the cleaning and maintenance of a hospital; however,
what was revealed applies to all types of locations such as schools,
airports, and industrial facilities.
focus of the study was finding out how germs and bacteria that may cause
disease are spread through cleaning. Of key concern were the mops commonly
used to clean floors in all types of locations, including medical
facilities. The researchers found that as these tools become soiled, they
can spread germs and bacteria that can affect building users.
Specifically, the study reported:
Following the demonstration of massive spread of bacterial contamination
throughout the hospital by the wet-mopping techniques in use, quantitative
studies were undertaken to determine the source of contamination and to
institute measures of control. It was found that mops, stored wet,
supported bacterial growth to very high levels and could not be adequately
decontaminated by chemical disinfection. Laundering and adequate drying
provided effective decontamination, but build-up of bacterial counts
occurred if mops were not changed daily or if disinfectant was omitted
from the wash-water.1
other words, while there are ways to stop the spread of contamination when
using the mop and bucket approach to cleaning floors, these steps are
fairly extensive, and their effectiveness is not always guaranteed.
Further, we must focus on the realities of cleaning, not only in
healthcare locations but in other types of locations including warehouses
and industrial facilities. Managers and administrators should ask
themselves the following questions:
· How often do custodial workers launder and decontaminate mops
and buckets during and after use?
· Are mops changed daily?
· Are they changed during the course of cleaning different areas
of the facility?
· Are they disinfected daily?
· Are they stored wet?
reality is mops (as well as buckets) are not cleaned as often as they
should be or on a daily basis. Nor are they always changed daily or
disinfected. However, they often are stored wet, which, according to the
researchers, “supported bacterial growth to very high levels.”
is but one example of how the very tools often used in cleaning—intended
to stop the spread of disease—are in reality the cause of the spread of
disease. And just so we are clear about how contaminants on floors can
spread infection, studies have found that we have as many as 50 direct and
indirect contacts with floors every day. Each time workers touch a
shoelace that has touched the floor, it is as though they too have touched
the floor. If germs and bacteria are on the floor, and now on the
shoelace, they can be transferred to the worker as soon as he or she
touches the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Cleaning Cloth Caper
cloths used to clean restroom fixtures, counters, desks, foodservice
areas, “high-touch” areas such as light switches and doorknobs, and scores
of other locations also have been found to spread potentially
health-risking microorganisms from one area to another. Many in the
professional cleaning industry have long believed this to be true, and in
the past decade or so, this belief has been validated by different
instance, a study published in 2004, “Household Cleaning and Surface
Disinfection: New Insights and Strategies,” investigated the use of
cleaning cloths used repeatedly to clean different surfaces. The
researchers here concluded that in situations where the cleaning procedure
fails to thoroughly eliminate contamination from one surface and then uses
the same cloth to wipe another surface, “the contamination is transferred
to that [new] surface.”2
other words, if a surface being cleaned is contaminated, that
contamination can be transferred to the cleaning cloth. When this happens,
and the cleaning cloth is then used on another surface, those
microorganisms may find a new home on a different surface. Once again, the
cleaning tool becomes the culprit, potentially spreading disease.
Because mops and cleaning cloths are likely the two most frequently used
tools in professional cleaning and may be spreading germs and bacteria,
plant administrators are likely wondering what options they have.
Fortunately there are alternatives.
simple way that administrators of industrial locations can keep their
facilities healthier is to simply switch to color-coded cleaning systems
where colors indicate which tools are used to clean which areas or
surfaces in a facility.
typical system is as follows:
Red: For cleaning and disinfecting toilets, urinals, and high-risk or
hazardous restroom areas
Yellow: For cleaning showers, mirrors, and other low-risk restroom areas
Green: For cleaning areas where food is handled and stored
Blue: For all other areas and surface types, but never in areas where
red, yellow, or green tools are mandated (In the United States, blue is
often used to clean glass areas.)
color-coding system can be applied to cleaning cloths as well as
microfiber flat mops, with red mops used for cleaning restrooms, green for
foodservice areas, etc. Some systems even take things a step further to
help protect health. Along with being color coded, at least one brand of
microfiber cloths can be folded into quadrants, allowing the cleaning
worker to use a fresh section of the cloth for each surface area cleaned.
However, because many industrial locations are large with large restrooms,
a more effective way to clean these areas is not with cleaning clothes but
with spray-and-vac systems. The term “spray-and-vac” was coined by ISSA,
the worldwide cleaning association, and refers to equipment that injects
chemicals onto surfaces and fixtures to be cleaned, which are then
high-pressure rinsed. This is followed by vacuuming up the solution and
contaminants, totally removing them from the areas cleaned.
schools where such systems are commonly used, surfaces are often tested
using ATP monitoring system. High levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
is viewed as a red flag that germs and bacteria are present on a surface.
However, according to Rex Morrison, CEO and president of Process Cleaning
for Healthy Schools, a restroom may start with an ATP reading of 1,700 – a
very high ATP reading – before cleaning but register as low as 4 or 5
after cleaning with a spray-and-vac cleaning system.
Industrial administrators are dealing with some real-world healthcare
issues that cannot be overlooked. At one time, the biggest concern
building users had when it came to communicable diseases was catching a
cold or possibly the flu from a co-worker. Things can be much more serious
today, and the last thing we want is for the tools we use to clean
facilities—and keep them healthy—to instead spread contamination.
Administrators are advised to rethink their cleaning strategies. The
programs that seemed to have worked successfully even a few years ago may
not be healthy today.
Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and healthcare
industries. He may be reached at
J. C., Mitchell, M. A., Legacé, S. “Hospital Sanitation: The Massive
Bacterial Contamination of the Wet Mop,” Applied Microbiology, 21, no. 4
Exner, M., Vacata, V., Hornei, B., Dietlein, E., Gebel, J. “Household
Cleaning and Surface Disinfection: New Insights and Strategies,” Journal
of Hospital Infection, 56, Supp. 2 (2004): 70-75.