Pro's Corner

Deep Cleaning: Part of the COVID Solution

The concept of deep cleaning, and cleaning for health first and appearance second is not a new one. In 1993, Dr. Michael Berry published a groundbreaking textbook entitled “Protecting the Built Environment – Cleaning for Health.” Dr. Berry laid out clearly the importance of cleaning on overall environmental quality – indoors and outdoors. For almost 40 years, Dr. Berry as a Research Scientist, and many in the field like him have been preaching the doctrine of cleaning for health first and appearance second.

From 1991 to 2014, scientific studies were carried out related to the interaction of deep cleaning procedures to the quality of the indoor environment, specifically to indoor “healthfulness.” The original studies in 1991 and 1994 were conducted by Dr. Berry and the Research Triangle Institute on behalf of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Subsequent studies in 2008 and 2014 were conducted by Air Quality Sciences and the Airmid Health Group expanding upon these original studies. In an article in the Journal of Cleaning, Restoration, & Inspection published in 2017, entitled Characteristics of High-Performance Carpet Cleaning, Dr. Berry looked back at all of the studies and expounded upon his thoughts specific to the deep cleaning of floors and the “healthfulness of the indoor environment. He summarized “Effective cleaning is the process of extracting and removing unwanted matter to the optimum extent to reduce exposure to unwanted matter. Most people clean carpets when they look dirty. Rarely does anyone recognize that their carpet needs to be cleaned for health protection. Yet every time pollutants are extracted from the carpeting; the quality of the indoor environment is enhanced by reducing exposures. A high-performance carpet cleaning process focuses on nine steps using a wet, high temperature, high flow, high extraction system”

In this article, Dr. Berry defines deep cleaning of carpet specifically as (items in parenthesis are an amplified explanation and not directly from Dr. Berry’s article):

  1. Wet (Water based)
  2. High Temperature (145-160º F across the surface being cleaned)
  3. High Flow (> 1.0gpm, not psi)
  4. High Extraction System (Vacuum recovery capabilities, wastewater storage)TITAN 325 lean left

In other words, truckmounted cleaning with the hot water extraction process. Why was this process found to be so effective at improving the health of the indoor environment? Well, essentially these studies demonstrated that deep cleaning had a high level of effectiveness at removing all unwanted matter, including soil, allergens, and biological contamination. Specific to COVID-19, these studies demonstrated that deep cleaning had a high degree of success at inactivating viruses. 

In any application of sanitization and disinfection, the first step must first be deep, restorative cleaning, extraction, and removal of unwanted substances. For surfaces that can be treated with chemical sanitizers and disinfectants, removal, and extraction of as much of the harmful contamination prior to the application of those disinfectants is extremely important.

Industry instructor and consultant and Aramsco associate Rachel Adams-Beja has written.

“Regardless of what chemicals may be able to destroy the Novel Coronavirus, most efficacy tests are done in clinical environments and not tested “in field” meaning that the real-world application and efficacy may not achieve the same results. As such, it is critical to remember that most antimicrobial products (disinfectants) are not going to achieve the desired results when applied to soiled surfaces, soft furnishings, etc.

Even surfaces that appear visibly clean must be cleaned thoroughly prior to the application of chemicals. The fact is that proper cleaning of surfaces is much like washing of hands and offers more protection than the application of hand sanitizer as it removes the contamination rather than trying to “kill” or destroy it. The international restoration industry should lead by example and not engage in ineffective practices of applying chemicals (spraying or fogging) without proper cleaning first.”

If an interested professional carefully looks at the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for making the indoor environment safer in this age of Covid-19, one thing clearly stands out, the CDC agrees that any surface that is soiled in any way should be deep cleaned first before applying a disinfectant. Dr. Eugene Cole during a recent webinar sponsored by the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) in discussing how to effectively combat the COVID-19 virus had this to say: “The virus has a lipid envelope that is not protective, rendering it susceptible to inactivation by detergents” Later when asked about the effects of heat during the cleaning process, Dr Cole responded “As a general rule (with educated limitations), the higher the cleaning temperature the better.” 

At the CIRI webinar, the team of doctors, scientists, and research microbiologists that spoke all agreed that the COVID-19 virus is almost always encapsulated or contained within other materials – most commonly saliva, snot, and fecal matter. Plus, anything else the carrier might have had on their hands. They emphasized that deep cleaning was always appropriate because general surface spraying and fogging of a disinfectant might not penetrate these materials to get to the virus itself. Apparently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency agrees with this thought. On their website, they publish answers to the most asked questions about treating for COVID-19. They answered the question; “ Can I use fumigation or wide-area spraying to help control COVID-19?” Here is their answer: “EPA does not recommend the use of fumigation or wide-area spraying to control COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you clean contaminated surfaces with liquid products, such as those provided on List N, to prevent the spread of disease. Fumigation and wide-area spraying are not appropriate tools for cleaning contaminated surfaces.” My Post (16)-2

So fellow cleaning and restoration professionals, you are and should be on the forefront in the attack on this pandemic. Regular periodic deep cleaning with your truckmounted hot water extraction equipment is an important part of the solution to maintaining a healthier environment, whether we are talking about the COVID-19 virus, other germs, and very likely any future virus caused pandemic. You need to be educating your customers on the absolute necessity of cleaning for health and the application of high temperatures to all flooring surfaces in a home with your truckmounted mobile cleaning plant. Plus, you need to build into your marketing message the need for more frequent deep cleaning to make their home or business a healthier place. An effective marketing campaign should not instill fear or further distress to your customers. It should do exactly the opposite. By educating your clients properly, you are showing proper respect for the COVID-19 virus, but that in that respect, you are also educated and trained to know how to take steps to create a healthier indoor environment. 

There are four primary marketing messages you should be focused on as we emerge from the pandemic and institute a new normal for your clients:

  1. Your credibility – you have taken the time to do your research and learn what steps you can safely take to create healthier indoor environments.
  2. Cleaning is primarily a health improvement step; it is not just for appearance improvement. If you wait until a surface looks filthy to clean it, you have already exposed the occupants of your home or building to unwanted, potentially harmful substances. 
  3. Promote that you are taking steps to protect and promote safety and security. You are going to clean and sometimes even apply disinfectant to all the hoses and tools you are taking into the home. You are going to make sure that you only send healthy technicians into the home. If you are going to wear face masks, booties then you need to promote that step. Pre-cleaning checklists, and after care communications are a great way to do this in addition to your regular marketing. Reinforce these steps with certificates of treatment.
  4. Increased frequency – the best way to protect an indoor environment is to deep clean it from top to bottom on a more frequent basis. For commercial customers provide a certificate of clean they can use to display to their customer that they are taking deep cleaning steps on a more frequent basis to protect their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

At the same time, you do not want to oversell your capabilities or provide your customers with a ‘false sense of security.” In the words of Clint Eastwood: “A man (or woman) has got to know his (or her) limitations. “While we know that using extremely hot water through a truckmount across a surface does provide for a major reduction in biological contamination, that does not mean the surface has had all potentially harmful organizations killed or extracted and removed. Even if you do apply an EPA registered sanitizer or disinfectant that is listed on the EPA N list to a surface, you do not want to make claims that you have ‘sanitized or disinfected” any surface or environment. You certainly do not want to imply in any way you are “guaranteeing” or “certifying” that you have killed the coronavirus. You are simply taking the steps recommended by the authorities, and if using a disinfectant, you are applying it according to manufacturer directions. Make sure your billing states specifically the steps you did (e.g., “applied an EPA registered disinfectant”) without making any guarantees.

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