With a new school year beginning, it is important to understand the pitfalls of cleaning processes in educational facilities, so we can help overcome these challenges. Nearly 60 million school days are lost each year due to cold and flu, according to the CDC. Much of this can be prevented by cleaning schools properly, as well as using proper disinfecting techniques.
Cleaning schools should be cleaning for health, not just for appearance’s sake. A clean, healthy environment promotes an appropriate learning environment, and can have a positive effect on students’ learning outcomes.
In order to develop an effective program for cleaning schools, it is important to understand the pitfalls and mistakes of many commonly used processes.
Many mistakes are very common but can be easily fixed. For example, many janitors reuse the same cloths for too long, rather than changing to fresh ones. Bacteria grow very easily on these cloths and sponges, and then instead of cleaning you are just spreading the bacteria.
Janitors should also understand the correct dilution ratio of the product they are using. If the recommended ratio is 1:20, that does not mean that a ratio of 1:10 is twice as effective and should be used. Many times, product is over diluted, which results in wasted product and potential exposure to certain chemicals, depending on the product used.
In addition to dilution ratio, janitors need to pay attention to and abide by proper dwell time for disinfectants. Many disinfectants must remain on the surface for 10 minutes to be fully effective. Any less than that, and germs are likely to be left on the surface, and the cleaning process was wasted.
One of the most common and troublesome problems when cleaning schools is a lack of training for cleaning personnel. Staff should be properly trained on daily disinfection, handling blood-borne pathogens, and all other cleaning techniques that should be used in the facility. A simple training program can provide the necessary information to eliminate many of the most common mistakes made by school cleaning personnel.
There are many other ways that schools can prevent infections and outbreaks as well. The most important thing to do in schools is to promote proper hygiene by everyone in the building. Students and staff who are sick should be sent home to prevent spreading sickness. Hand washing and respiratory hygiene should be prioritized. Soap and towels or dryers should be available at every sink, and hand sanitizing stations should be available in high-touch areas.
For cleaning staff, procedures should be clearly outlined, including which surfaces should be disinfected, how often the task should be performed, and what tools are needed and how to maintain them. Proper maintenance of tools will help to ensure that the process is actually cleaning, not spreading germs.
Some other tips for cleaning schools: use dual-bucket systems to keep clean and dirty water separate, have cleanup kits for bodily fluids, and although every surface should be cleaned and disinfected, high-touch surfaces should be prioritized and cleaned more regularly.
High-touch surfaces are hot spots for contamination and should be cleaned and disinfected the most often. Restrooms are obviously a priority, but other surfaces, like tabletops and desks, are just as critical. Tables and desks in classrooms, cafeterias, and libraries are found to be the most likely to have build-ups of germs that can cause Norovirus, Influenza, and MRSA.
Other high-touch surfaces include doorknobs, keyboards, water fountains, and light switches.
While administering proper training and using proper procedures is critical in keeping schools clean and healthy, perhaps just as important is giving staff the right mindset when it comes to cleaning: cleaning in schools is not just about appearance, it is about the health of the facility and its occupants. The goal is for the facility to be clean, healthy, and germ-free, rather than just a clean appearance.
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