Key developments likely to affect health facility cleaning

While synthetic detergents, microfibers, high-speed burnishers and polymer floor finishes have all made health facility housekeeping easier and more productive over the past several years, the field has yet to see the kind of technological innovation that has characterized many other areas of health care facilities management. In fact, in many situations, environmental services managers still use string mops, upright vacuum cleaners and wet rags to complete daily cleaning tasks.

However, that may soon change. The professional cleaning industry is seeing the beginning of an evolutionary process that will revolutionize every aspect of facility housekeeping. Driven by advances in technology, societal trends, demographics, economics, environmental awareness, consumer activism and easier access to information, these changes will greatly affect hospital environmental services and housekeeping departments over the next several years.

Looking at the trends. Here are some trends that are already beginning to impact how environmental services and housekeeping personnel clean, disinfect, polish and preserve surfaces and equipment in health care and related facilities.

Scientific approaches. In the past, cleaning professionals often went through the motions, exerted energy and called it “clean.” Today, cleaning for appearance alone is not acceptable. Through independent scientific testing, cleaning professionals are beginning to get the facts they need to determine which equipment, chemicals and processes are effective in removing soil and which ones simply spread it around.
Some of the processes, equipment and products that have been relied upon for years are now coming under intense scrutiny with many falling by the wayside as it’s discovered that they actually contribute to resoiling or cause other cleaning problems. For example, some detergents leave sticky residues on fibers and surfaces that attract and hold soil instead of releasing it.

Today, tests are being conducted on carpet cleaning equipment by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC, at http://www.iicrc.org), vacuum cleaners by the Carpet and Rug Institute (http://www.carpet-rug.org), water damage processes by the Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians (http://www.isct.org) and chemicals by flooring manufacturers such as Shaw Industries (http://www.shawfloors.com). It won’t be long before test results on these and other subjects will be just as available as marketing hype is today.

Results testing. Portable testing equipment is now available to verify bacteria, particle count, airborne gases, film thickness, reflectivity, slip resistance and conductivity. And that’s just a start.
It will soon no longer be acceptable to just say that the work has been done properly without backing the statement up with facts. This means being able to follow specific standard operating procedures and certify the results via independent scientific testing.

Standards, definitions and expectations. The ASTM International, formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials (http://www.astm.org); the British Institute of Cleaning Science (http://www.bics.org.uk); the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (http://www.iest.org); the proposed Cleaning Industry Research Institute; Green Seal (http://www.greenseal.org); and others are researching and establishing standards for cleaning equipment, products and processes.
Already on the books are standards for chemicals, office cleaning, clean rooms, carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, water damage restoration and mold remediation. Along with standards will come universally accepted definitions, terminology and testing methods for cleaning.

Environmental concerns. Sustainable development, green products and processes, waste stream reduction, indoor environmental air quality concerns and recycling are all having an impact on purchasing, procedures and how daily cleaning tasks are accomplished. Moreover, environmental stewardship issues are expected to become more important in the future.
The result has been new product categories and procedures that center on such topics as mold remediation, multiple chemical sensitivity, indoor air quality, low moisture systems, enzymes, seed esters, soy-based products and low- and no-residue chemicals.

Coatings and finishes. Antimicrobial-impregnated surfaces, semipermanent floor coatings, manufacturer and on-site applied aluminum oxide wear layers on floor coverings and polymer coatings that can be applied to surfaces to repel and prevent the penetration of soil and facilitate cleaning are all part of this new era.
Self-cleaning buildings and surfaces. This technology already exists and is in use in high-tech clean rooms around the world. Highly effective filtration, positive air pressure, barriers, prevention and the use of specialized surfaces are able to greatly reduce the need for cleaning in any facility.
Titanium dioxide coatings are being applied to window glass, urinals and ceramic tile that will oxidize soils and kill germs when exposed to the ultraviolet rays found in fluorescent lighting or natural sunlight.

Training opportunities and methodologies. Online classes, CDs and DVDs, streaming video, interactive digital training programs and formal certification classes are all part of the growing selection of training materials and programs now available to cleaning staff, supervisors, managers and owners.
Communication. Most workers and every supervisor have access to cell phones. E-mail and Palm-type PDA devices are also becoming common operating procedure in all organizations and facilities. This has allowed environmental services and housekeeping staff to be available whenever and wherever they are needed. This has resulted in better service.

Vapor cleaning. Small, compact, inexpensive and highly effective low-, dry-moisture vapor cleaning machines are now on the market for use on a wide variety of surfaces, from hard floors and carpeting to fabric partitions and toilets. These steamers are great tools for delicate and intricate cleaning that was time-consuming and tedious work when done by hand with a brush. One of the benefits of these machines is that they can sanitize the surfaces being cleaned, without the use of chemicals.

Vacuum cleaners. Tremendous advances have been made in vacuum cleaner design, function and productivity. Today, there are lightweight backpack vacuums with HEPA filtration that contains 99.999 percent of the soil picked up, with a production rate that is triple that of a standard upright on both carpet and hard floors. Other advances include battery power, vacuums up to 56 inches for wide areas, rider sweepers and robotic units.

Autoscrubbers. Here again, major advances have been made. Once thought of as equipment for only wide-open areas, today’s autoscrubbers can be low profile, multifunctional, easy-to-operate and have a zero turning radius. Other enhancements include multifunctionality, robotics, rider models, self-diagnostics, simplicity of design and operation, better sweeping capacity, high filtration, water recycling ability, low-moisture foam and quick charging interchangeable battery packs.

One major manufacturer says its new equipment reduces water usage by as much as 70 percent. The real impact of this technology is that an operator doesn’t have to stop to refill or empty the tank as often. Tests indicate a 30 percent increase in productivity. This machine also eliminates the mixing of chemicals by placing a detergent cartridge in the machine that contains enough concentrate to clean 1 million square feet of floor space.

Another manufacturer has recently introduced a “stand-up” riding autoscrubber. Again, productivity is increased because of better visibility and the fact that a worker is more likely to step off the machine to complete related tasks than to get up out of their seat on a sit-down rider.

Restroom cleaning advances. Users want cleaner restrooms and manufacturers have responded with new systems to increase effectiveness. Examples include microfibers, flat mops, squeegees and restroom-cleaning carts that incorporate a pressure washer and wet pickup vacuum.
Chemical use and waste stream reduction. Chemical dilution systems and concentrated products are helping to reduce waste and assure the accurate measurement of cleaning solutions. The latest cleaning systems on the market for carpets, fabrics and hard flooring incorporate low-moisture processes and reduced chemical usage. Due to environmental and economic concerns, waste stream reduction is fast becoming an issue for manufacturers, governmental agencies and end users in all market segments. These systems and products are good for the environment and the bottom line.
Microfibers and flat mops. Over the next five to 10 years, microfibers, flat mops and vacuum cleaners will replace brooms, dust mops, feather dusters and string mops in most applications. Other advances include bucketless mopping and self-contained, high-production finish application systems.

Floor care systems. Over the past 10 years, burnishing has replaced polishing and spray buffing and almost eliminated the need for stripping, which has been replaced by more frequent scrubbing. The next major trend in floor care appears to be the use of semipermanent, high-solid coatings that don’t require burnishing, stripping or recoating. Such coating may be applied on-site or by floor covering manufacturers.
Other advances include positive vacuum dust collection systems, the crystallization of stone surfaces, the use of color coded equipment, along with strippers and finishes that change color to indicate that renewal is needed.

Cleaning process evolutions. Today, team or specialist cleaning is fast replacing the zone cleaning process. Team cleaning brings organization and scheduling to a previously haphazard and disorganized process. The result is higher quality, productivity and, of course, accountability.

Computerization. All aspects of housekeeping are being computerized. Some of the most common functions include quality control benchmarking, scheduling, staffing, training, time keeping, labor management, inventory control and estimating.

Nanotechnology. Although this is a new field of microscience that hasn’t had much impact in the cleaning industry, nanotechnology holds tremendous potential for improving the cleaning efficiency of surface coatings and chemicals to the point where they may truly become self-cleaning.

Keeping up to date

Opportunity will not come to those who wait. Keeping up to date with the latest changes via industry publications, trade shows and seminars must be an ongoing process.

This takes time, energy and resources, but it’s a commitment that every individual has to make in order to survive in today’s competitive environment.

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