Question: If you invited a cleaning firm into your home and paid them to clean interior decor fabrics, would you expect them to clean strictly for appearance, or should the safety and health of your family be the primary concern?
Given a choice, which would it be – appearance or your family’s safety and health?
“Well, the answer’s obvious,” you say, “Of course I’d choose my family’s safety and health over appearance any day!”
Exactly what I thought, but don’t you think your customers feel the same way?
Now, let me ask the question another way. How much are you willing to charge for quality services that address your customers’ safety and health issues? You see, it’s easy to smear dirt around and make things appear clean. But to actually remove the particles, gases and biologicals that create an unhealthy atmosphere in your customers’ homes and businesses, your employees must slow down, use advanced equipment and be trained and certified in multiple cleaning disciplines.
The good news is that you don’t sacrifice appearance when cleaning for health. And the cost associated with better equipment, certified technicians and more meticulous cleaning isn’t that much more - maybe even less in some cases.
“But indoor environmental quality (IEQ) issues are far too complicated for me to grasp,” you say. “I barely can keep up with technical issues relating to my profession.”
You know, I used to feel exactly the same way. That’s until I came to understand that IEQ issues aren’t all that complicated – especially on the prevention side. Let’s summarize the three major categories of contaminants and see if that doesn’t clarify things somewhat for the average cleaning or restoration contractor.
Environmental contaminants fall into one of three categories:
• Particles: Especially particles <10 microns that penetrate deeply into delicate lung tissues where they can have a cumulative adverse effect over the years. In our industry this category of air and surface contaminant can include asbestos (from deteriorating insulation or building materials during demolition), lead (paint, carpet dust), fire contaminants (soot particles), biologicals (pollen or fungi and bacteria spores associated with uncontrolled water releases or prolonged drying) or just plain old household dust and dirt.
• Volatile Organic Compounds: VOCs or gases – anything from exhaust emissions to dry-solvent vapors to radon – fall into this category. Interestingly, many of our best cleaning products and spotters used to be significant contributors here because of the VOCs they contained. But responsible formulators have largely solved this problem.
• Microbiologicals: (micro = microscopic, bio = life) Here we’re talking about all those smelly substances resulting from living things growing and decomposing soils, and even building materials themselves. It includes the dreaded “black, toxic, killer molds” (color is irrelevant; molds are toxigenic rather than toxic; no one dies of household mold exposure), which are such a hot topic in the media today. It includes bacteria that are ubiquitous (found everywhere) and, given the proper growth conditions, are waiting to “do their thing,” to decompose organic soils and materials.
“Good grief guys! This is getting a bit complicated,” you say. “Where and when did all this stuff become such a problem?”
Answer: Only a few millennia ago when man began living on the face of the earth. Contaminants – really soils – always have been there. It was when man began enclosing himself and the air he breathes in increasingly sophisticated shelters (caves to condos) that pollutants became a chronic problem. In fact, the energy conservation movement of the ’70s made the problem worse by eliminating air leaks (drafts) from our homes and businesses. By trapping conditioned air in our structures and not exchanging it with fresh air from outside, we also trap contaminants, recirculate them time and again, and eventually, we allow them to build up and accumulate in the air we breathe. The result? Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) problems.
So what do we do about all this IEQ stuff? Well, that’s where cleaning or restoration professionals come in.
The following are seven guidelines for healthy cleaning offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Look them over and see if they don’t make sense to you.
1. Provide for the safety of all human beings, before, during and after cleaning. OSHA regulations lay out specific requirements for safety compliance. Problem is, too many cleaning firms ignore these requirements and regulators seldom check.
2. Clean for health first and for appearance second. Fortunately when you clean for health, you also get outstanding appearance. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that better appearance produces a healthy environment.
3. Maximize the extraction of pollutants from the building. The World Health Organization’s definition of cleaning includes: “locating, identifying, containing, removing and properly disposing of soils and pollutants from buildings,” if “healthy” cleaning is to be accomplished. A professional cleaning technician must be trained to concentrate on this important goal. Otherwise, the dirt may be less visible, but still present, still doing its damage.
4. Minimize chemical, particle and moisture residue. Most agents used in fabric cleaning are quite safe, but some leave residues that cause rapid resoiling. Particles left behind after cleaning can become airborne and result in respiratory irritation. Prolonged drying (moisture) can result in rapid resoiling, and eventually, mold growth that can trigger allergies and asthma attacks.
5. Minimize human exposure to contaminants, cleaning chemicals and cleaning residues. Both during and after cleaning, professionals should make sure that neither they, nor their customers, are exposed to potentially hazardous materials.
6. Evaluate cleaning in relation to the total environmental system, not just part of the system. Fabric cleaning is only part of the solution to unhealthy environments. Trained, certified professionals are able to advise customers of other strategies to create a healthier environment for their families. They can offer simple suggestions like:
a. concentrating on cleaning entry ways and entry mats to remove or trap soils outside the home or business
b. increasing vacuum frequency and using high-efficiency vacuum filter bags that trap small particles and keep them out of the breathing zone
c. using high-efficiency electrostatic filters in heating and cooling systems to remove up to 99% of allergy-aggravating pollutants, and
d. providing programmed carpet and fabric cleaning so that soils are removed annually or semi-annually, before they build up or become embedded.
7. Dispose of cleaning wastes properly. Finally, when soils have been suspended and extracted during cleaning, they must be disposed of in an environmentally responsible way. Usually, this means that extracted solutions are discharged in a sanitary or treated waste water disposal system.
Cleaning for health must become a priority for true professionals. Indeed, today’s informed consumer must demand more of the cleaning professional who services home or business fabrics. Appearance only is no longer an acceptable criterion for evaluating results. When customers call your firm, they should be assured that cleaning for health is your first priority.
After all, it’s their families’ or coworkers’ health, and your reputation that are at stake!