ICS Magazine

A New Cleaning Trend: Anti-Allergen Services

October 7, 2005


The rug-cleaning specialist is a person who works with customers who tend to have valuable home furnishings. This customer is more affluent, better educated, and concerned about health and safety issues.

They are the perfect customer profile for offering anti-allergen services. However, most homeowners are not aware that a proven system of anti-allergen cleaning is available.

The scientific community has come to the conclusion that better environmental hygiene will improve people's health. We in the cleaning industry have intuitively known all along that a clean home or work place promotes health. Now, recent scientific work is proving our point.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "the EPA and its Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health." EPA statistics show levels of many airborne pollutants as high as two- to five- to even 100-times higher indoors than outdoors, a noteworthy fact as most Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, "50 percent of all illnesses are caused by or aggravated by polluted indoor air."

Researchers had long wondered whether Indoor Air Quality plays a role in the increasing rate of asthma nationwide. About 17.3 million Americans have this long-term respiratory disease. Since 1980, the prevalence of asthma and asthma-related hospitalizations and deaths has increased 75 percent. It is the most common chronic disease among children. Moreover, the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. The prevalence of the respiratory disease in some countries - including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom - exceeds that in the United States. Protein-related allergens are the key group of indoor pollutants that act as triggers for asthma and other respiratory ailments. These proteins, in addition to mold and fungi, include allergens from dust mites (Der p 1 and Der f 1); Cockroach (Bla g 1); dog dander (Can f 1) and cat saliva (Fel d 1).

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), after reviewing the latest scientific studies, wrote their report concluding that "exposure to allergens produced by house dust mites - found in nearly every indoor environment - can lead to asthma in children who are predisposed to developing the disease. The indoor agents included allergens from dust mites and cockroaches; fungi and mold; dander, hair, and saliva from domestic pets and other animals; viruses and bacteria; spores and materials from houseplants; and irritants from secondhand tobacco smoke, pesticides, cleaning and building materials and other pollutants."

Let's take a look at dust mites since they are the number one household allergen. House dust mites are arachnids, not insects. Related to spiders, dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged creatures that are 0.3mm in length and invisible to the human eye. They are found in virtually all homes, no matter how clean. They live on the dust that accumulates in carpets, fabrics, furniture and bedding.

The primary source of dust mite exposure in the home is in the bedroom, which provides the best conditions of warmth, humidity and food for their growth. They are present in mattresses, pillows, blankets, carpets, upholstered furniture, curtains, and similar fabrics. The average bedroom can be infested by millions of microscopic dust mites. We spend around one-third of our lives in the bedroom, so we are in close and prolonged contact with dust mites.

The house dust mite survives by eating our dead skin cells, which make up to 80 percent of house dust. They also live off water vapor, which we provide for them by perspiring and breathing approximately one pint per person, per night. So mites are even found in climates with very low humidity. A dust mite will produce 20 fecal pellets per day; that is 200 times its own body weight in feces during its short lifetime. If dust mite pellets were the size of golf balls, the average queen-size bed would have a pile of pellets 70 feet high.

During the night, most people toss and turn up to 60 or 70 times. This expels mite feces pellets from bedding and pillows into the air. These allergens can stay in the air for up to two hours. Once airborne, dried dust mite droppings are inhaled, causing allergic reactions in asthmatics. These allergens can cause wheezing, coughs, itchy eyes, sniffles and in more serious cases, asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis.

The eradication of the dust mite should not be your objective, because total eradication is impossible. Eradication would require such high levels of pesticides that it would be harmful to humans. Additionally, we always carry some mites on our hair or eyebrows that would be re-introduced to our bedding, starting the cycle again.

What is the solution for allergy suffers?

To effectively control dust mite allergens, the mattress needs to be regularly cleaned (about every six months for allergy suffers). It should first be vacuumed, ideally with a truckmount so the exhaust is vented outside. If a truckmount is not available, use a HEPA-filter vacuum. After vacuuming, wet-clean the top and sides of the mattress. Don't over-wet the fabric, as the customer will need to use the mattress that evening. At this point, a dust mite allergen-neutralizer product should be sprayed on the surface.

However, an application of mitacide or pesticide is not recommended for allergy patients, as these materials are poisons and could cause discomfort. It would be best to use a plant-based treatment that doesn't contain perfumes or VOCs to control the allergens in between hot-water extraction cleaning.

Don't forget the pillows! An old pillow can contain up to 20 percent of its weight in dust mites, their fecal matter and body parts. Every time your head hits the pillow, the pressure acts as a billow blowing the allergens into the bedroom. The pillows can be cleaned and treated with a dust mite-neutralizing product, but replacing the pillow every six months would be the best advice to give your customers.

Next, turn your attention to the carpet in the bedroom. Clean the carpets in the bedroom using the hot-water extraction method. Because of chemical sensitivities, use cleaning agents that are free of perfumes, phosphates, builders, hydrocarbons and solvents. New products manufactured from plant-based alcohol ethoxylates meet these criteria. Apply an anti-allergen neutralizing product to control the allergens between cleanings.

After vacuuming, wet-clean the top and sides of the mattress. Additionally, clean the upholstery using an extraction method and also treat them with an anti-allergen post-spray. This system can also be effective on pet allergens. Check with your distributor to see if the manufacturer has outside test date to prove product efficacy.

In addition to allergy suffers, it seems more and more of the population is concerned with health and safety issues. Many homeowners are now asking to see the MSDS of the products that will be used to clean their home. If they see hazardous materials listed, they may demand cleaning with hot water only, which of course limits your ability to remove soil and allergens.

Your company will need to develop a unique marketing plan for allergy relief services that reflects your operation, your market and the prospective groups on which you intend to focus. The specifics of the plan are determined by the individual; however, there are some guidelines that can help you during its development.

Customer purchasing motivations are quite varied and like an iceberg: the greatest portion of why people buy lies hidden beneath the waters of the subconscious. However, it is generally accepted that the single biggest purchasing motivation is to relieve current "pain." It is also thought the second buying motivation is to prevent future "pain." In terms of allergy relief services, it is clear that real pain exists in the present for these individuals. The potential for future pain is also real, as allergy-related illnesses can multiply and more serious ones can develop.

One of the major reasons people develop allergic illnesses is overexposure to various allergens, especially those found in indoor air from pets and dust mites. It is now clear that allergies can in fact be controlled, and even prevented, by avoiding the triggers that cause them. This strategy is called environmental control.

Your marketing plan may be quite conservative or highly ambitious. In either case, an excellent place to begin is with your own customer base and those that contact your business for the services that you currently offer. Given that nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population suffers from allergic illnesses, you will have a large number of customers and new callers who will immediately identify themselves as potential purchasers of allergy relief services if you ask the simple question, "Does anyone in your household suffer from allergies or asthma?"

When you get a "yes" response to that question, you have the opportunity to ask further questions, such as:

  • "Do you know specifically what you or your family member is allergic to?"
  • "Have you heard of environmental control?"
  • "Are you taking any steps to reduce your exposure to indoor allergens?"
  • "What results have you obtained?"

    These questions elicit information and create the opening for a conversation about anti-allergen cleaning and treatment. You will need to put together a brief presentation you can use on the phone to explain these services once you receive permission. Use the brochures developed by your supplier during face-to-face presentations, which can also be used as mailings and leave-behind pieces.

    When speaking with people that do not have allergy suffers in the household, there is still an opportunity to discuss allergy prevention, particularly when there are young children in the home or a baby on the way. It will be very important that you can speak knowledgably about allergic illnesses in a general way and more specifically about environmental control. People with allergic illnesses often know a lot about them, and they are grateful for someone to talk to who can empathize with their problems and possibly offer solutions.

    Given that allergy relief services need to be provided every six months (in extreme cases, every three months), these customers are ideal for maintenance contracts. If the customer chooses not to commit to a six-month cleaning cycle, contact them after the fifth month to schedule the next cleaning.

    When offering services as a preventive measure, these same procedures can be followed. Given that there may be less of a sense of urgency when there is no active allergic illness in the household, it may make sense to offer a cleaning package based on hypo-allergenic cleaning materials and allergy-preventive cleaning procedures like mattress cleaning. This will allow you to offer a much-differentiated package from your competition, and address the concerns of people with questions about chemicals and toxins in their home. They may be chemically sensitive, but not allergic, to home bio-pollutants.

    The key to successful marketing is to give people a reason to buy your services that differentiates you from your competition. Most importantly, this reason must be relevant to them and their needs.

    Referrals will be a vital part of your allergy treatment business. You will find that there are people who will call you expressing their undying gratitude for your help with their suffering. It is critically important that you ask these people for referrals.

    Publicity is also a very important part of your marketing efforts. This new way of treating indoor allergens has a lot of media value. Don't underestimate the power of a feature story in your local paper or being part of a radio interview show in your market.

    Another excellent, credibility-enhancing source of referrals can be found in making presentations to schools and PTA groups, church groups, allergy-support groups (check with your local hospitals), fraternal organizations and the like.

    It also makes sense to add allergy-relief services to your current advertising efforts. This can be added to advertising you currently do, or you can create separate communications specifically for these services, like a newsletter. It is very important when marketing allergy-relief services to avoid drastic scare tactics, as this approach has proven to backfire. No one likes to be manipulated, and scare tactics often have this flavor.

    The main focus should be images that reflect the removing of pain. Allergen-illness sufferers are often quite restricted in their activities. They miss school and work, go to the doctor's office far more frequently, and feel pain because their children are suffering. You will find a good return on your investment of "Doing well by doing good."