Contrary to the once-popular belief, the purpose of cleaning is not for appearance, but to remove contaminants that negatively affect occupant health and performance. One of the best ways to remove contaminants from the indoor environment is to implement systems and procedures that prevent contaminants from entering the facility.
Sidewalks, parking lots, entries, and other areas surrounding a facility are often overlooked: However, occupants walking through these areas can bring in outdoor soil and contaminants. Keeping these areas cleaned and well-maintained is a major component of good IAQ.
Along with maintenance, efficient matting systems are crucial. As much as 90 percent of the dust and dirt entering a facility “walks in” through building entries. Studies show that up to 24 pounds of dirt can be tracked in by just 1,000 people coming through an entrance over a 20-day work period.
But, unfortunately, mats are often poorly placed and are selected in a piecemeal fashion, without sufficient thought to the essential and ongoing task of preventing contaminants from entering and harming the indoor environment.
An effective matting system requires selection of the best types of mats to meet the demands of a specific facility, as well as proper placement and maintenance. As much as 15 to 20 feet of matting should be placed at all pedestrian entrances, garage entrances, and shipping/receiving areas. Soil accumulates most frequently within the first 10 to 20 feet of the mat, especially in high-traffic areas; mats of this length prevent soil from entering the facility. Additionally, mats should be cleaned and vacuumed frequently.
Recent developments and advanced technologies have produced scores of environmentally preferable cleaning products with far less impact on the environment and occupant health:
- Floor Care and General Cleaning. Many times, hard-surface flooring is selected because it has reduced VOC emissions. However, the entire selection process can be defeated the very first time the floors are finished (stripped and re-waxed). According to Greg Norris, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, finishing a floor just one time can equal - or surpass - the VOC emissions from the floor over its entire life-cycle. To be consistent in efforts to protect IAQ, facilities decision-makers should select products with reduced VOC levels. This is best accomplished by choosing cleaning products, tools, and equipment that have been certified by organizations like Environmental Choice™ and Green Seal®.
- Floor Machines. More advanced floor machines have vacuum systems that help trap the dust generated when floors are polished.
- Vacuuming. The use of high-filtration vacuum cleaners that trap contaminants helps protect the indoor environment.
- Microfiber. Cleaning cloths and mop heads made from microfiber are much more absorbent than traditional counterparts, and can be used with less water and chemicals.
Along with switching to more environmentally preferable cleaning products, maintenance staff must be taught how to properly use them. For instance, insufficient diluting of a green-cleaning chemical can defeat the environmental benefits of the product; over-dilution can hamper the chemical’s performance. Cleaning professionals should also understand crucial factors such as storing cleaning chemicals to prevent off-gassing.
Stephen Ashkin is principal at The Ashkin Group (www.ashkingroup.com), Bloomington, IN.