Cleaning for Time vs. Health

The negative impact of cleaning for speed

Cleaning professionals are under more and more pressure to perform their duties as quickly as possible. This is happening in a variety of settings, from the cleaning of commercial office space to schools to hospitals and hotels.

And, during a time when our industry is realizing more than ever that our No. 1 priority is to keep people healthy, the “trash-and-dash” approach to cleaning is sure to result in a number of problems, not the least of which is making it harder for us to accomplish our goal of cleaning for health and safety.

In a September 2015 article published by Infection Control Today, John Scherberger, founder and president of Healthcare Risk Mitigation and the incoming president of the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council, says that in some cases, hospital housekeepers are being ordered to turn over rooms within 10 minutes once a patient is discharged. But this type of order, especially in a hospital setting, is a serious health problem waiting to happen.

In the article, “Room Turnover Times: ‘Trash-and-Dash’ Approach Jeopardizes Patient Outcomes,” Scherberger writes, “[Would you] tell a surgeon to remove a gall bladder in 10 minutes? He or she would revolt because they can’t do it properly in 10 minutes.”

This concept of trash-and-dash cleaning does not just occur in hospitals. For a variety of reasons, mainly budget constraints, cleaning staffs in corporate campuses, multitenant office buildings, and educational facilities are now required to boost productivity to 5,500-6,000 square feet per hour compared to past productivity rates of 3,750-4,500 square feet per hour.

And in more high-end hotels in the United States, hotel housekeepers are being told that instead of 30 to 35 minutes, which is usually how long it takes to detail clean an upscale guest room, the work must be done in 20 minutes or less.

Unfortunately, it appears that some of the wins the professional cleaning industry has been able to secure in the past decade or two—such as convincing end-customers that cleaning is an investment in good health—are being lost to economics. In the current climate, the hospital, the high-rise, and the hotel all view cleaning as a cost, and not as an investment.

So how do we respond to this?

First, educating customers and training cleaning staff is vital. Equally important in today’s world is being familiar with the latest technologies that have a positive impact on productivity without sacrificing quality. For example, dust control is central to maintaining a healthy environment. Just by selecting microfiber dusting systems and high-performing vacuum cleaners, cleaning professionals are able to do a faster, more effective job and capture more dust and contaminants than using traditional cleaning products and methods.

Next, building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house professionals alike need to revisit the research about cleaning that indicates more cleaning and more effective cleaning results in better health outcomes for building users. This has been pointed out in several studies by such leading experts as Dr. Stephanie Dancer, a specialist studying infectious diseases and how to prevent them; Dr. John Boyce, clinical professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine; and Dr. Philip Carling, clinical professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

All of these experts have come to the same conclusion: Cleaning duties must be performed properly and in the proper amount of time to be effective. Further, administrators must not view cleaning as a cost, but as an investment in the health of all building users.

What we as an industry must realize is that the fight to clean properly, and for health and safety, is not over just because we once convinced end-customers of our value. Like so much in life, educating ourselves and our industry of the value of cleaning is an ongoing process, but given what’s at stake, it’s a journey worth taking.