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Housekeeping and IAQ

The use of effective cleaning procedures has a positive impact on improving the indoor air quality in a facility or area. Unfortunately, most cleaning procedures, equipment, and chemicals in use today actually have a negative impact on the indoor environment.

The goal of cleaning is to create and maintain an aesthetically pleasing, cost effective, clean, safe, healthy and comfortable environment for living, working, playing and travel. To accomplish this goal, we must consider, control and monitor as many of the possible variables that impact indoor environmental quality. This is no easy task. There are many factors and variables involved, including such things as lighting, humidity, noise, temperature and ergonomics.

Every surface, activity, person and many other factors influence and impact the indoor environment. This impact can range from minimal to overwhelming and from good to bad. Everything connected in any way with an area or building impacts the indoor environment. Examples are: building materials, furnishings, location, traffic levels, indoor processes, occupants, cleaning schedules, processes and products, maintenance, construction, HVAC factors such as air intake, filtration, flow and balance, a building’s age and condition, and outdoor environmental factors such as weather, plants and air quality. And these are just some of the most common factors. Indoor environmental quality is much more complicated than how or what we use to clean a facility.

Keeping these facts in mind is the starting place for developing an understanding of what you as a professional cleaner can do to have a positive impact on the indoor environment and ultimately your employer, customers, employees and the public.

Why Indoor Environmental Quality Is Important

Building owners, managers and maintenance professionals have a social, moral and fiscal responsibility to provide a safe environment. Let’s take a brief look at some good reasons for IAQ:

1. Health
People can and do get sick. This results in loss of productivity and income, higher medical costs, and lower employee moral. This quickly translates to liability and financial impacts for everyone even remotely involved. Some individuals are more sensitive to odors and contaminants than others who may work or live in the same space.

2. Marketing
People are aware of indoor environmental issues. Information is available and the subject is a media favorite. Tenants and building occupants expect and have a right to work in a safe environment. Once a building gets tagged as being sick or having air problems, it’s a very difficult image to shake. This will impact occupancy rates, income, management time and costs for many years.

3. Liability
If people get sick because of something that is even remotely tied to a building, activity or location, it’s like giving out blank checks. Attorneys and the media will have a field day and costs will skyrocket out of sight.

4. Laws, Regulations and Guidelines
At least twelve states have laws on the books now that deal with or in some cases mandate certain levels of indoor environmental quality. OSHA has proposed a comprehensive regulatory package to deal with these issues on a national level; however, the proposed bill is stalled in the comment period and may never become law. It and existing laws in other states are being used as written guidelines on how to properly deal with environmental issues in buildings and work spaces. This issue has a life of its own and will not go away anytime soon.

5. Cleanliness
Everybody’s an expert. Clean is in. If a surface or area is soiled or smells bad, it’s socially unacceptable. Using good cleaning practices is a sound business and management decision that has a positive impact on air quality. Cleanliness and a quality indoor environment is less expensive than a soiled alternative.

What is Clean?

When it comes to the actual cleaning procedures used, we must first accurately define how to properly clean a surface or area. From there we can examine the equipment, chemicals and processes that are being used to assure that the impact they have is positive.

To effectively clean a surface or area the following steps are required:
1. Identify what soil or contaminant you want to remove.
2. Pick up or remove it.
3. Package it so it doesn’t get spread around during the clean up or transportation phases of the removal process.
4. Dispose of the soil so it can no longer have any impact on the indoor environment.

This is cleaning. If the process, procedure or equipment you are using doesn’t accomplish these steps or leaves a residue, you haven’t actually cleaned the environment. Instead you have redistributed the unwanted soil or contaminant so it’s no longer visually obvious or offensive at first glance. This is not effective cleaning.


It’s my opinion that most of the cleaning equipment available today does not do a complete job of cleaning and in most cases actually spreads the soil around instead of removing it.

As professional cleaners and the public become more aware of the benefits of a clean environment, manufacturers will respond accordingly to remain competitive.

We can encourage this transition by specifying and only purchasing vacuum cleaners, floor machines, extractors and auto scrubbers that use HEPA or high efficiency filters.

We must also take steps over a period of time to eliminate from our facilities all products, tools, equipment chemicals and procedures that do not utilize all steps of the cleaning process.

Some examples include: Using vacuum cleaners with HEPA or high efficiency filters for as many cleaning tasks as possible; using damp dusting instead of lambs wool or feather dusters; using clean equipment and solutions for cleaning; using automated equipment versus manual tools where possible; avoiding the use of blowers, fans, brooms and dust mops. Instead use disposable mops and wipers versus a laundry service. Change soiled items frequently to avoid spreading soil around instead of removing it.


Eliminate as many chemicals as possible. Do not allow the use of aerosols or spraying to apply solutions. Install automated chemical dispensing equipment wherever possible to eliminate the need to measure products. Use as little water as possible and keep it clean by replacing the solution frequently. Eliminate all solvent based products. Seek out and purchase products that are environmentally friendly. Provide ongoing training and supervisory oversight.


Purchase recycled paper, plastics and other materials. Keep all supply closets clean, organized and locked. Inspect these areas the same as you would offices and restrooms.


Document in writing all cleaning procedures. What you can’t measure, you can’t manage. Constantly evaluate your cleaning procedures to assure that they utilize all the steps to a complete cleaning process. Provide ongoing training to all employees and require that established procedures be followed on the job each day. Inspect the work upon completion and in progress to assure that procedures are followed and the desired results are being achieved and maintained.

Specific Areas

Some areas are more sensitive than others due to what takes place there and the associated risks. As an example, food preparation and service areas, child care, medical treatment, locker rooms and restrooms require more frequent and detailed cleaning than most other areas. When you have infectious materials, children, the elderly, high levels of moisture or food, the opportunities for cross contamination, indoor pollution and severity of illness are enhanced. Special protections are required.

Some types of manufacturing processes also require special consideration. These may include: high technology, hazardous, explosive or infectious materials, aerospace and pharmaceuticals.


Regularly scheduled visual inspections of the property are your first defense in maintaining a healthy, clean and safe environment. If you see signs of soil buildup in corners, along edges, in stairwells and under desks or if the janitor’s closet is a mess and the equipment is dirty you don’t have good indoor environmental quality and you’re wasting money.

If you are trying to isolate a specific problem and its cause, consultants and independent laboratory analysis are available to examine for VOC’s, particulates, biologicals, lead, asbestos, odors, radon, and other pollutants.

Tests for temperature, humidity and air flow can often be done in-house with inexpensive equipment. Some HVAC service contractors also provide testing and technical support.

The Future

In the future more emphasis will be placed on preventing areas and buildings from getting dirty instead of trying to clean them up after the mess has been made. This can range from simple things such as walk off mats inside and outside of doors, to air showers and curtains, pressurized entry chambers, and other cutting-edge technology now used in cleanrooms where soil control is critical.

Cleaning will be engineered into the design of the buildings and surfaces before the first brick is laid. Surfaces will resist soiling and be easy to clean. Others will utilize new technology now being tested in Japan and at the University of Texas that uses a photocatalytic process to that makes surfaces self cleaning. This technology has already been tested on hard surfaces such as window glass, ceramic tile and vitreous china such as toilets and sinks. Imagine the impact when it can be added to paint, carpet, ceiling tile and floor finish. Add to this the promise of robotics and you can begin to see what cleaning will be like as we enter the next century.