ICS Magazine

Cleaning for Health: The Evolution and Economics of IAQ

May 13, 2002
A few years ago, the cleaning industry began a whole new way of thinking when Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) came on the scene. As studies and science have shown it to encompass many more variables than simply air, the term of choice has become Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ).

Numerous contaminants have been identified in the indoor environment, ranging from dust mites to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and molds. If these contaminants are not properly addressed, they can easily lead to an unhealthy indoor environment. And as additional concerns are discovered, a new collection of jargon has entered our industry's vocabulary. Words such as Prevention, Containment and Remediation mix with phrases like Sick Building Syndrome and Building-Related Illness, conditions and descriptions employed by today's professionals when discussing the role of cleaning and restoration services in the "cleaning for health" marketplace.

The idea that cleaning and restoration services are not only about improving appearance, but improving the overall environment, is more than just a convention seminar topic. Owners and managers of cleaning and restoration service businesses in the 21st century must not only acknowledge this paradigm shift, they must embrace it in order to remain on the leading edge of their field.

Exceeding Expectations
The basic goal of any business is to exceed the customer's expectations, creating the repeat and referral business that ensures the continued existence and development of the company. Without it, we would not survive. It is therefore crucial to stay current on what each client's specific expectations are and adapt to those standards.

The traditional reason that customers have their furnishings cleaned is because the furnishing "looked" soiled. This helps to explain the criteria of improvement in appearance that is used by many clients to determine the success of the cleaning effort (it "looks" clean).

Professionals know that looks can be deceiving. A textile can appear clean without being truly soil free or healthy. Conversely, a textile can be very clean and still not look all that great. Through the years we have learned to identify these issues, developing the terminology and techniques needed to educate the consumer, adjusting their expectations to levels that can be achieved and exceeded.

Cleaning for Health
The addition of yet another reason to clean again changes the game. The customer's expectations include not only an improvement in appearance, but also a reduction in unhealthy contaminants and pathogenic (disease-causing) agents. There is even work being done that could lead to cleaning services being part of a prescribed treatment by allergists. Imagine getting a call to clean a carpet because a person's doctor has written a prescription.

Cleaning Benefits
When developing a business plan for the current marketplace, it is important to include the features and benefits your company offers in terms of improving the health conditions of the indoor environment. It is also important to recognize that in doing so, care must be taken not to create the picture that the furnishings themselves contribute negatively to the environment.

For example, the fact that carpet can serve as a filter, or reservoir, might lead some clients to view the soil and contaminants harbored within as a reason to remove the carpeting from their homes. In reality, the opposite is true: the filtering characteristic of carpet can actually keep some contaminants out of the air and improve both the air quality and the overall health of the indoor environment. That is, as long as the "filter" is regularly cleaned.

Scheduled Maintenance Cleaning Selling cleaning services as a method by which to help maintain a healthy indoor environment, not just for repairing an unsightly textile by making it look good again, adds to both customer satisfaction and your bottom line. Planned maintenance works on an established schedule as opposed to the "when it looks bad it's time to clean" timetable.

Textile cleaning services are no longer only about appearance. The whole idea of cleaning for health does not pertain only to operating rooms and doctor's offices. Today's consumer expects that you will be able to address their IEQ health concerns.

Be prepared to exceed their expectations.