Cleaning For Health: Marketing a Change for the Better

The idea of cleaning for health has been around for a long time, but it seems that not enough educational facilities are taking full advantage of this philosophy and its many benefits.

One benefit for health-conscious facilities managers is the marketing edge it can give them. A system of cleaning that enhances the well-being of students, staff and other customers, while yielding savings on facility maintenance costs, will help ensure the future of the operations department and provide long-term advantages to the institution.

Understanding the Need for Clean

The cleaning-for-health movement got its start 200 years ago in England, when boarding houses and prisons were breeding grounds for disease. Lately, indoor environments have been getting a lot of attention. But it isn't the spread of a disease that has people up in arms - it's the negative effect buildings can have on their occupants. This effect often is called "sick building syndrome."

But as Dr. Michael Berry, a former Environmental Protection Agency researcher, once said, "There are no sick buildings, only sick people in mismanaged buildings."

For instance, indoor air can be dangerous if its quality is mismanaged. Experts say the air inside buildings often carries much higher concentrations of pollutants than the air outside, and we're exposed to building pollutants longer, since almost 90 percent of our time is spent indoors.

Since much of the dirt and dust that cleaners try to remove from rooms - as well as the chemicals used to dissolve soil - can add to bad indoor air quality, there is a direct correlation between cleaning tasks and how healthy an environment might be. "Anybody who professes to be a professional cleaner really is a manager of an indoor environment," says Berry.

So here are some ways you can start seeing - and start marketing - your cleaning services as health-improvement techniques.

Cleaning: The First Line of Defense

Help your clients (students, faculty, visitors, etc.) understand that the processes you use are not intended just to make a building look good; they are intended to make it clean and healthy. You add value to your services when you teach your clients how you improve health.

First, define what it means to clean an area. Berry says cleaning is a process of locating, identifying, containing, and properly removing and disposing of unwanted substances. Eliminating those substances helps to prevent the spread of illness, enhance productivity and boost morale. Take time to explain that to your customers.

The Science of Cleaning

Don't forget to tout your supplies. The tools you use to clean for health are different than those of ordinary cleaning departments or outside contractors. Many vacuums, for example, now offer superior filtration capabilities, with some machines capturing almost all particulates smaller than one micron in size. These vacuums also reduce the amount of dusting needed because they are more efficient at trapping particles, instead of releasing them into the air.

Chemicals, too, can be healthy or not, depending on your choice. Those high in perfumes, dyes or volatile organic compounds can leave behind undesired substances, such as residues or fumes.

Cleaning-for-health tools also often are ergonomically designed to promote efficiency and reduce worker fatigue. For your clients, that means more cleaning is accomplished in less time, while still making buildings safer for students and other occupants. Arguments such as this help customers understand why you have a higher service level than other in-house operations or contractors who don't clean for health.

Training Your Workers

The people you hire can be your strongest marketing advantage. What will differentiate them from your "competitors" is the amount of training they receive in order to address a building's health issues. Your workers should understand what causes buildings to be dirty. Many cleaning workers think that if it looks clean, it is clean - but in reality, if an area is cleaned for heath first, it also will have a clean appearance.

While it may seem easy to wipe surfaces and scrub floors, these tasks demand attention to details such as dilution ratios and disinfection kill times. At Janitor University, we teach a class on microbiology to help cleaning workers understand pathogenic organisms, cross-contamination and simple chemistry - things that are necessary for understanding cleaning as a health-improving service.

Workers who clean for health also have a sense of purpose. Their mission is to improve the environment by removing dangerous contaminants - not to simply mop the floor. Show your customers this mission, too. Provide samples of job cards that have specific employee instructions, and show clients the video presentations, skill tests and hands-on training manuals your workers use. You'll also want to show off your professional affiliations with APPA, CMI, ICAN, ISSA and other professional organizations that promote education and may give credentials to members who meet certain professional criteria.

A Package Deal

Don't assume your customers will understand what it means when you talk about cleaning for health. Spell it out for them in demonstrations, print materials or even a multimedia or video presentation. Make sure your materials are professionally produced and that your message is clear and concise. As your clients' awareness of cleaning for health techniques grows, so will your department's value.

John Walker is a principal of ManageMen, a cleaning consulting company in Salt Lake City; founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program; and founding board member of ICAN (The International Custodial Advisors Network).

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