By Harrell Kerkhoff, Maintenance Sales News Editor
What is clean? Is it clean? — those two questions are unavoidable, regardless of where cleaning fits in as it relates to a specific organization. However, those two questions aren’t always asked, because there is an underlying assumption that everyone will give the same answer. And that is simply not true, according to Lynn Webster, director of LWC Ltd. (www.lwc-ltd.co.uk), an independent cleaning consultancy, based in the United Kingdom.
Everyone seems to have an opinion — or can offer a definition — of “clean.” The problem is, just because something “looks clean,” does not mean it “actually is clean.”
During a presentation directed at cleaning industry professionals, Webster addressed different fundamental aspects to the definition of “clean,” and discussed ways a person can truly measure “clean.”
With 36 years of experience, Webster is recognized for her expertise in the cleaning and associated facilities industries, providing independent, professional support to a wide range of organizations across health care, retail, leisure, hospitality and education sectors. She is also an ISSA Certification Experts (I.C.E.) consultant, providing support to companies working toward CIMS (Cleaning Industry Management Standard) accreditation.
Webster is involved with cleaning audits in the UK and other parts of Europe. A key objective of her presentation was to provide definitions and various approaches to the meaning of “clean.” She noted that there are often disagreements between different stakeholders involved in facility care when it comes to their ideas of “clean.”
“It may well be that a service provider’s interpretation of ‘clean’ is different from a client, who is complaining or not happy with the level of cleaning taking place. There may be a miscommunication involving various expectations of ‘clean,’” Webster said. “There are also the different perceptions of ‘clean’ to take into consideration among a facility’s actual occupants — those people living or working in a facility on a continual basis.”
While conducting research for her presentation, Webster looked through various dictionaries to find what she felt was the best standardized definition of “clean.” She settled on the following:
■ As an adjective — “clean” is free of soil, pollution and other undesirable materials; and,
■ As a verb — “clean” is a process that makes something clean, such as removing dirt, marks or stains.
Webster added that with this definition comes four important areas to explore related to cleaning. They are: Perception, Process, Procedure, and Frequency.
“Preception focuses on what ‘clean’ really means to a specific person, while the process centers on ‘what we do to actually clean.’ The proper procedure and frequency follows,” Webster said.
She explained those four points in greater detail:
■ Perception: According to Webster, “clean” can take the form of a smear-free surface, shiny floor, stain-free carpeting, and/or a pleasant fragrance in a room.
“That ‘perception’ can start to define what a person believes ‘clean’ to be, even if something is really not clean,” Webster said. “For example, many of my clients who work in the health care segment would say, ‘Clean has no smell.’ Smell, even if it’s pleasant, can actually be a problem.”
There is also the perception that something is, or is not, clean based solely on the sense of touch.
“If a person feels something sticky on a surface, there is the belief that the surface is not clean,” Webster said. “On the other hand, if there is some type of squeaking noise from touching the surface, a person may feel it’s clean, thus the term ‘squeaky clean.’”
■ Process: It’s also important to look at the various cleaning methods/processes designed to create “clean,” when using the word as a verb.
“There are people outside our industry who say, ‘Anybody can clean,’ or ‘It’s only cleaning,’” she said. “However, as we all know, it’s possible to clean correctly and to clean incorrectly. The main question is, how do we clean correctly? What is the best process or processes to use?”
That often involves proper training and using the right products, such as those that are color-coded, in an effort to prevent cross-contamination.
Webster added that along with using the right products, it’s also critical to follow manufacturer directions and properly label items. To make her point on the importance of proper labeling, Webster showed a slide of two bottles labeled “glass cleaner.” Both bottles had been refilled, one with a blue liquid and the other with a yellow liquid.
“They were both found in the cleaning cupboard. Which label is correct?” Webster asked. “I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody else does, either. If you don’t have cleaning chemicals properly labeled, and if you don’t use the right dilution rate, then proper cleaning is not going to take place.”
It’s also vital that cleaning products, including equipment, are properly stored during off-hours.
“The first thing I do when conducting an inspection is visit the housekeeping closet. That tells me what is really happening at a facility and what is really getting cleaned,” Webster said. “For example, when I see equipment not properly stored, such as left in one big pile, that tells me how little somebody cares about that equipment. It’s hard to properly clean with poor or damaged equipment.”
■ Procedure: The act of cleaning is as critical as the products being used. Through proper training, those involved in the cleaning profession learn the proper methods to cleaning various parts of a facility.
“If we don’t have the right training and skills in place, none of us can clean correctly,” Webster said.
She showed a slide detailing the proper use of a dust mop while cleaning a floor, involving a continuous stroking action and overlapping passes. There are other proper techniques that should be followed when cleaning glass, vacuuming carpet, etc.
■ Frequency: How frequently an area is to be cleaned often involves the level of dirt, dust and overall grime tolerated by the client, according to Webster. For example, when it comes to dusting, there is often a greater tolerance for a lower level of white dust to collect, compared to the darker gray or black dust that can develop over time.
“If an area of a facility is to be cleaned just once a day, there is bound to be a level of dust that collects until the next day’s cleaning,” Webster said. “That must be taken into consideration when measuring ‘clean.’”
She added it’s important that cleaning frequency specifications include all areas of a facility, not just those places that are easy to reach and/or see.
THE PROCESS OF MEASURING ‘CLEAN’
When determining how clean something really is, Webster explained that, “If you can measure it, you can see and improve it.”
She added that, according to ISSA, being able to properly measure “clean,” leads to healthy indoor environments for occupants of buildings. Proper measuring also allows valuable activities to take place in the constant effort to achieve continuous improvement.
The process of measuring clean, Webster added, involves determining if something is truly clean or dirty, as well as what should be inspected, who should do the inspecting, how the cleaning process should be audited, what records should be taken of the cleaning process and how those in charge and involved in the cleaning process should properly review what has taken place, to ensure consistent improvement.
Webster also addressed the different stages of cleaning audits. They are:
■ Technical Audit — Checks and scores cleanliness outcomes against predetermined standards.
“That type of audit can involve somebody who is qualified and competent to judge the outcome of ‘clean,’ based on different areas I have just discussed,” Webster said.
■ Efficacy Audit — Checks a cleaning team at the point of service delivery, and validates the efficacy of the cleaning process. It also supports policies and procedures.
“An efficacy audit finds out if the cleaning routine has been done correctly as it pertains to the chemicals, machinery and other cleaning tools used,” she said. “Basically, the audit determines if those who cleaned did the job in the correct manner. It gives people a greater assurance that something is truly clean.”
■ External Audit — Provides an independent quality assurance check.
“That (type of audit) is what keeps me working,” Webster said. “I make sure what is being done on a regular basis, in the name of proper cleaning, is actually taking place at a client’s facility.”
She added that for any audit to be effective, it has to be easy. It should also have structure, a framework and fit a purpose.
“If a type of audit is not working well for you, there is nothing wrong in changing to another system,” Webster said.
REASONS FOR FAILURE
Cleaning is hard work, and failures will happen. Such failures can stem from high-traffic areas that leave floors dull and dirty, hard-to-reach surfaces where proper cleaning can be very difficult, and thoughtless facility occupants who never look twice for a trash can.
Webster explained that if a person knows why he/she failed in the cleaning process, then proper corrections can be made. She outlined four basic reasons for cleaning failures in a facility:
■ The end result being continual issues with dust, stains, smears and sediment. It can involve both light and heavy instances of contamination, depending if proper cleaning did not take place for a day, or a longer period of time.
■ Build up — Which can appear over a period of time, and involves ingrained dirt, body fats and/or scale.
■ Debris — Including dispersed litter not removed during the cleaning process.
“Inevitably, the general public will drop stuff on the floor. Keeping debris at a reasonable level is always a challenge, no matter how many times you clean,” Webster said.
■ Method Failure — Involves cleaning something the wrong way. That can result —among other problems — in streaky and/or smeared surfaces.
She noted that following a disciplined process of inspection is important. That includes checking for proper cleaning practices in out-of-sight areas, such as behind and under furniture, fixtures and fittings.
“A good inspection routine is really helpful,” Webster said. “It’s also important to find a way to properly interpret data from an inspection, and understand what the results mean to the client.”
The end result, she added, is to realistically define the level of “clean” taking place.
“There is a worldwide assumption that ‘anyone can clean,’ but it’s far more important to clean properly. Knowledge and training are invaluable for professional operatives in all cleaning sectors — from those helping save lives in a health care setting to providing safe educational establishments for young people,” she said. “There are far too many people who start out as housekeepers or other cleaning professions who have no actual knowledge, training or experience in cleaning itself. That is why education, training, certifications and true knowledge are so important.
“It all leads to the development of professionals who know how to clean properly, meet the right standards and provide services the correct way. That gives the cleaning profession added credibility.” ■