Facilities (Learning Spaces)

Five Ways to Kickstart Your School's Cleanliness

child washing hands


Fall is here, and that means the return of cold and flu season. It’s also the perfect time to make sure your cleaning program makes the grade when it comes to preventing the spread of these common illnesses and other infectious diseases.

Cleanliness is often measured by visual standards, evaluating the visible levels of dirt and grime instead of measuring by quantitative criteria. Unfortunately, this approach can have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing, in addition to becoming increasingly costly. With the proper implementation of a high-performance cleaning and maintenance program, the social and economic costs of a less-than-clean school can be significantly reduced.

What are the real costs?

On average, students in the United States miss 38 million school days per year because of the flu. While a concerning statistic on its own, consider the fact that chronically absent students are 7.4 times more likely to drop out of school. A student’s ability to learn can also be affected by a dirty environment. The presence of contaminants, such as dust and allergens, can impact cognitive
skills, including typing, arithmetic, logical reasoning, memory and creative thinking, by two to six percent.

microscopic view of germs


When students get sick, it increases the likelihood that teachers and staff will also become ill. Every year, teacher absences cost the United States $25 billion. This comes before the additional $4 million expense of hiring substitute teachers as replacements. Allowing for school environments to remain dirty quickly becomes a comparable expense to investing in protocols that would reduce these negative effects.

What can you do?

It’s a reality that kids will get sick from time to time, but the implementation of an effective cleaning regimen can decrease the likelihood of students and staff catching the flu by up to 80 percent. These five steps can help your school prevent the spread of germs and other pathogens.

1. Educate about germs. Understanding the basic facts behind germs, viruses and other environmental pathogens is one of the first steps for establishing effective cleaning measures. Educate teachers and staff with basic but fundamental information that will increase their awareness and appreciation of the critical role of cleaning in protecting our health:

  • Touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth is one of the most common ways germs are transmitted.
  • Cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces up to 48 hours.
  • Some bacteria can live on surfaces for months, increasing the amount of people that become sick as well as the duration of their illness.

2. Evaluate your campus. What are the common surfaces with the highest levels of contamination? This list will likely include stair rails, door handles, water fountains and sink surrounds — any surface with a “high touch” point, meaning those touched most frequently by the highest number of people. Cleaning and disinfecting these surfaces regularly and thoroughly significantly reduces the number of environmental pathogens present on any given surface.

3. Pick your products wisely. It’s important to make sure the disinfectant products your facility management team uses are appropriate for fighting the types of germs in your school’s environment. Identify products tailored to combatting cold and flu germs.

4. Clean and disinfect correctly. Always follow label directions on cleaning products and disinfectants. It’s important to note that the directions on most disinfectant products require the surface to first be cleaned. Clean surfaces with a general purpose cleaner to remove germs, and then use an EPA-registered disinfectant to kill germs.

5. Promote hand hygiene. Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs, such as the influenza or cold virus, to others. Hand washing with soap and clean running water is the most effective way of removing germs from the hands. However, hand sanitizers are also effective if soap and water are unavailable.

cleaning door handle


It’s common knowledge that school budgets are being cut. As a result, overall cleanliness is suffering. Currently, only 43.5 percent of school districts provide guidance for infectious disease prevention, as cleanliness is usually defined by visual inspection only. In order to combat this issue and reduce the negative impacts on your school, implement the steps outlined above to create a healthy environment for your students, teachers and staff.

For more information on how to improve school cleanliness, download the ISSA Clean Standard: K-12, a free tool your school can use to measure and improve cleaning effectiveness, at www.issa.com.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Bill Balek is the director of Legislative and Environmental Services at ISSA where he oversees the association’s legislative, regulatory and environmental programs. He has over 30 years of experience in the cleaning industry. Balek is an attorney licensed to practice in Illinois, and holds an MBA in marketing from DePaul University Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. For more tips and information, visit issa.com/infectionprevention.