Many cleaning professionals are unaware of studies that indicate how the tools we use to clean surfaces-specifically, cloths and mops-are sometimes the ones that cause cross-contamination.
This point was illustrated rather dramatically in a study published in 2004. That study found that, in situations where the cleaning procedure fails to thoroughly eliminate contamination from one surface and then the same cloth is used to wipe another surface, "the contamination is transferred to that [new] surface."
Another study investigated microbial contamination of cleaning cloths and their potential to spread contamination. Once again, this study reported that wiping surfaces with contaminated cloths could contaminate hands, equipment, and surfaces.
Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests ways contaminated reusable cleaning cloths should be effectively cleaned in order to not spread disease.
While the procedures suggested are designed specifically for use in medical facilities, with greater concern today about protecting public health, especially in schools, many of these suggestions apply to cleaning situations in all types of facilities.
The CDC offers two key suggestions:
Heat: After washing with a detergent, heat is the most reliable treatment for the elimination of contamination on cleaning cloths and mops. While most dryers heat to about 135°F, higher temperatures are even more effective. If possible, dry cloths at 176°F for two hours.
Frequency: Reusable cleaning cloths should be decontaminated frequently during cleaning to prevent surface contamination transferring to other surfaces.
"Cleaning workers can also take steps to stop the spread of contamination when cleaning," says Matt Morrison, communications manager for Kaivac, manufacturer of no-touch cleaning systems. "Try to avoid using mops wherever possible, use color-coded cleaning cloths, and [use] cleaning cloths that can be folded into quadrants, so the user always has a clean cloth to work with."