Healthy Cleaning



A recent study found that daily disinfection of a public school could reduce absenteeism significantly. The two-year study involved two schools in the Flagler Schools County School District in Bunnell, FL.

In the 2017-2018 school year, the district began using an electrostatic sprayer in one school oncer per month to help improve the health of the facility and, hopefully, reduce infection rates. The electrostatic sprayer is designed to release a disinfectant spray onto surfaces, killing a wide range of pathogens. In a second school, that regime was beefed up considerably by performing disinfecting strategies daily.

As to the results, according to a report in CleanLink, “the school that received daily treatment from the electrostatic technology reported [a] 14 percent reduction in absenteeism and no outbreaks of illness. The other school saw a decline in absenteeism, though it was less significant.”

Taking this a step further, another study was conducted in Canada and reported by Bunzl, a multinational distribution and outsourcing company based in London. This study involved Southview Public School, which is part of the Limestone School District in Ontario, Canada.

According to the researchers, schools are home to many harmful pathogens that can cause viral respiratory illnesses, coughs, colds and influenza. “They are responsible for most of the absenteeism in K–12 schools, not only in Canada, but in many parts of the world.”

To conduct this study, the researchers once again used an electrostatic sprayer disinfecting system. But this time, two other cleaning technologies were brought into the picture. These were:

  • Microfiber cleaning cloths, and
  • “no-touch” or “spray-and-vac” cleaning systems — a name coined by ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association.

The microfiber cleaning cloths were selected because they are highly absorbent. When compared to traditional terrycloth towels, not only are they more absorbent, they also tend to hold soils and pathogens longer, so that they are less likely to spread contaminants from one surface area to another. Furthermore, many terrycloth towels release lint. When used in cleaning, the lint fibers from terrycloth towels can absorb pathogens that then become deposited on surfaces in the cleaning process.

The no-touch/spray-and-vac cleaning system was added because it helps remove soils from surfaces instead of spreading them. When used to clean floors, these systems eliminate the need for mops, whether microfiber or traditional. While microfiber has proven to be a more effective cleaning tool than conventional cleaning cloths, once it becomes saturated with soil and contaminants, it can spread pathogens instead of removing them.

To conduct the study, five locations were selected in three different classrooms at the Southview school. A total of 40 different surfaces were tested before cleaning. This helped determine the amount of contamination on the surfaces and provided a benchmark for tests. Researchers now had a general idea of how contaminated these surfaces can become on a regular basis. The same surfaces were then tested again after cleaning to see if cleaning effectiveness improved using the three cleaning technologies. This is what they reported:

  • The number of live bacteria, referred to as colony-forming units (CFUs) in the classrooms, decreased by 93 percent; this indicated that the cleaning effectiveness using the three systems improved significantly.
  • Comparing the 2017-2018 school year, when the three cleaning technologies were not used, with the 2018-2019 school year when they were used, there were “513.5 fewer absent days, representing a 15 percent reduction in overall school absenteeism.”

Additional Cleaning Benefits

While these studies show compelling evidence that more effective cleaning can help reduce absenteeism, the researchers also wanted to know what the custodial workers at the school thought about the technologies. For instance, instead of increasing cleaning times, which might be assumed using the three different cleaning systems, the cleaning workers found that cleaning times were reduced. One custodian reported that he could clean the classrooms "in a quarter of the time it used to take."

The benefits of the microfiber cleaning cloths were also noted. Cleaning workers could tell they helped trap soils more effectively than terrycloth, helping to absorb and not spread contaminants on to other surfaces.

As to the no-touch/spray-and-vac cleaning systems, it was noted that these cleaning systems helped the custodial staff minimize soil build-up in the restrooms. The restrooms in this school are considered "heavy traffic" areas, used by many students throughout the day. It was determined that the more thorough cleaning achieved through using the spray-and-vac cleaning systems helped reduce soil buildup to make cleanup operations easier over the long term.

The Practicality of Enhanced Cleaning Effectiveness

Of course, the goals of both of these studies were to help keep students (and staff, we might add) in school and healthier throughout the year. Apparently, they proved this can be done.

Enhanced cleaning effectiveness has some very practical benefits as well. One is pure "bread and butter." In most states, school funding and attendance go hand-in-hand. For instance, a charter school in a low-income neighborhood in California loses $41 per day for each student not in school. One financially struggling school district in San Diego loses $29 each day a student is not in class.

Students may be absent for a variety of reasons, such as truancy, suspension or family emergencies. However, a significant number of these absences are due to health-related issues that can be averted with more effective cleaning processes and procedures.

Another very practical benefit of enhanced cleaning is student performance. A September 2018 study, “Student Absenteeism: Who Misses School and How Missing School Matters for Performance,” conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, examined several issues related to student attendance. This included issues such as which students are most often absent from school, how often and how many days they are absent, as well as many social-economic factors that can result in school absenteeism.

However, it is their conclusion, which is of importance here. The researchers concluded: “Our analysis confirms prior research that missing school hurts academic performance: Among eighth-graders, those who missed school three or more days in the month before being tested scored between 0.3 and 0.6 standard deviations lower (depending on the number of days missed) on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics test [when compared to] those who did not miss any school days.”

The Takeaway

Is our takeaway that school administrators should run out and purchase some of the types of cleaning systems discussed here to help reduce student absenteeism? Not necessarily. Ultimately, our goal is for administrators to realize that effective cleaning is an investment that pays dividends in many different ways.

Each year, most school districts order cleaning-related supplies and equipment for the school year. Often, these are the same items purchased the year before.

Let's do something new this year. Let's take a closer look at the cleaning solutions, tools and equipment selected in the past and see if newer or different tools can be selected that may prove to be a better investment in the health of those we are educating.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.