The professional cleaning and carpet cleaning industries play a crucial role when it comes to indoor air: we can help make the air we breathe healthier or, if we are not careful, a whole lot unhealthier for ourselves, building occupants, and our customers.
According to the Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank (IAQ-SFRB), the term indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to “the environmental characteristics inside buildings that may affect human health, comfort, or work performance. IAQ characteristics include the concentrations of [or amounts of] pollutants in indoor air, as well as air temperature and humidity.”
Now that we have it defined, here are some facts about IAQ that cleaning/carpet cleaning professionals should know:
- As adults, we breathe 30 pounds of air every day, and because 90 percent of our time is spent indoors, the impact of outdoor pollutants on our health is negligible. It is indoor air that can most often harm us.
- The IAQ-SFRB reports that occupants of buildings with above-average or improved IAQ have a 35 percent decline in short-term staff absences.
- On the other hand, the World Health Organization estimates that poor IAQ results in an 18 percent decline in worker productivity, which can cost American employers as much as $60 billion annually.
- Poor IAQ can result in skin, eye, nose, and throat irritations; fatigue; nausea; trouble concentrating; and even cancer.
Although poor IAQ can come from a variety of sources-from poor ventilation to the off-gassing of carpets, upholstery, paints, and other materials-it cannot be denied that cleaning chemicals, especially conventional cleaning chemicals, play a significant role. In fact, it is now believed that the No. 1 cause of poor IAQ is the off-gassing of aerosolized materials used in cleaning products on a daily basis.
What We Can Do
Back in the mid-1970s, one of the key reasons new multitenant office buildings were experiencing IAQ problems, later termed “sick building syndrome,” was the fact that they were designed to be airtight in order to reduce cooling and heating needs. Plus, the amount of cooled and heated air recirculated in the building was increased. With little or no ventilation, less fresh air, and more recirculated air, poor IAQ was a problem just waiting to happen.
There is little cleaning/carpet cleaning professionals can do about how well ventilated a facility is, but there are a number of things we can do, in both commercial and residential settings, to keep from exacerbating the problem. Among them are the following:
- Encourage the use of entryway matting. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), entryway matting keeps as much as 90 percent of outdoor “dirt” outside. Matting allows fewer contaminants to enter the facility, which means the amount of cleaning necessary is decreased and the amount of chemicals used in the facility for cleaning purposes is reduced.
- Vacuum carpets using machines with advanced filtration systems, preferably HEPA filters. These trap and hold most contaminants, preventing them from becoming airborne.
- Park idling vehicles away from buildings to keep fumes from entering the facility.
- Use proven-Green (Green-certified) cleaning chemicals with reduced numbers of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can harm IAQ.
- Use chemicals with a flash point (temperature at which a liquid will burn and keep burning) greater than 150 degrees (F), which are considered safer for both the user and IAQ.*
- Where possible, use chemicals that work well with cold water; heated water is more prone to release chemical fumes.
- Use Green cleaning equipment and procedures and CRI approved equipment. For example, vacuums with HEPA filtration, microfiber cloths and mops, which are more absorbent than terry cloth towels or string mops in place of traditional dust cloths and mops for hard-floor care.
- Vacuum after dusting to minimize residual dust in the air.
- Employ more low-moisture carpet cleaning products, procedures and equipment such as encapsulation.
- Remind end customers, many of whom are cost conscious and are scaling back on cleaning, that effective cleaning leads to enhanced IAQ and helps protect health, which will in turn save money by increasing worker productivity.
Regarding this last point, Dr. Leonard Krilov conducted a significant study examining the impact that more effective cleaning has on health. At a specialized school for children with Down syndrome, Krilov found that more effective cleaning reduced total illnesses by 24 percent, doctor visits by 34 percent, courses of antibiotics by 15 percent, and days absent from school by 46 percent.**
All of this information points to one conclusion: protecting and enhancing IAQ will promote our own health and that of our customers. And for this reason, we should all honor February, National Care about Indoor Air Quality Month.
*In the United States, anything with a flash point below 55 degrees (F) is considered "extremely flammable" and may become, if misused, a significant safety hazard; any chemical with a flash point above 212 degrees (F) is considered nonflammable.
**Study reported in 2005 and conducted at the Association for Children with Down Syndrome School in Bellmore, New York.