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Eliminating cross-contamination in the age of COVID-19

05 November 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the globe and threatens to alter the very make-up of effective cleaning processes, James Taylor answers the pertinent questions around infection control, optimum cleaning materials and maintaining effective hygiene practices in the ‘new normal’.

THE ONSET of the COVID-19 virus has had a profound impact on every aspect of daily life, firmly thrusting hygiene into the spotlight and understandably placing modern cleaning practices under greater scrutiny than ever before.

While cleanliness in most environments remains a critical aspect of operations, with a prominent government campaign to encourage employees back to workplaces following long periods of furlough and remote working, the responsibility is now on employees across myriad industries to reassure staff it is safe to return. 

Now, more than ever, organisations must highlight measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And although face coverings, physical distancing and awareness of the symptoms of the virus remain the order of the day, it is critical that businesses do not lose sight of one of the most important aspects of employee safety and welfare – effective cleaning practices. 

Cleaning professionals are already well accustomed to extensive and thorough cleaning, but with the COVID-19 era firing the topic of hygiene to the top of the agenda, implementing the most effective solution to meet infection prevention targets has become a must. Lowering the risk of cross-contamination through the close and careful sanitation of touch points, common surfaces, floors and fittings, in particular, is now even more imperative to keeping people safe. 

With high traffic touch points in the workplace having the greatest concentration of microbes, therefore, acting as vectors for the spread of the virus, the failure to achieve high standards of cleanliness in such areas particularly in critical care settings can carry its own set of risks. 

Of course, while keeping surfaces clean to remove pathogens of concern is a crucial step in breaking any potential chain of infection, achieving it across increasingly complex and diverse working environments is certainly not straightforward. Indeed, it often requires adaptive cleaning strategies that not only consider the increased demands placed on cleaning staff, but also tailor them to the requirements of any given environment, by implementing the most effective solution to meet infection prevention targets. 

All this before cleaning teams have even began to ponder wider business considerations such as the environmental impact and cost efficiencies of solutions being used.

Unfortunately, when it comes to achieving high standards of cleanliness and infection control, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach meaning different working environments will naturally require tailored strategies and resources to tackle the ongoing pandemic.

‘High risk’ healthcare estates, for instance, where cleaning teams are already battling a large swathe of healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), will likely require broader considerations than office or factory environments due to the higher perceived risk to staff and vulnerable patients.

The dangers of inadequacies in hygiene standards, especially on high-touch surfaces in critical care environments, was highlighted in the early stages of the pandemic, with up to 20% of patients with COVID-19 reported to have caught it at hospital according to NHS figures. 

Cleaning considerations for coronavirus 
Understanding the most appropriate cleaning materials by which effective and efficient infection control can be achieved is fundamental. The positive news is, today’s cleaning teams arguable have the widest choice of solutions at their disposal than ever before. And yet, although choosing cleaning solutions may appear simple, there is more to it than meets the eye, and when it comes to infection control not all solutions are created equal.

Traditional woven cloths, for instance, have been a mainstay in the armoury of cleaning professionals, yet extensive testing has revealed that some 30% of the germs they pick up whilst cleaning are subsequently deposited onto the next surface wiped.

While re-usable 100% microfibre cloths – traditionally perceived as a rational substitute for woven cloth equivalents, due largely to their superior cleaning performance and greater microbial removal proficiencies – similarly present their own drawbacks. A study by the American Journal of Infection Control found that 93% of microfibre cloths tested, used to clean hospital rooms after being laundered, still contained dangerous levels of bacteria such as E. Coli.

It is perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, that in an age where infection control has become imperative, cleaning teams are increasingly seeking solutions that offer greater assurances. 

A clean bill of health

One solution that is adding significant value as teams tackle the ongoing pandemic, is working with disposable microfibre wipes and cloths – such as those produced by Chicopee®, a brand of Berry Global and the leading producer of professional cleaning materials.

The limited time usage of microfibre based solutions – such as Chicopee’s® Microfibre Light – feature a unique structure that facilitates the removal of 99.99% of bacteria, securely trapping it in the material without the use of chemicals, and significantly reducing the risk of cross-contamination. While, by virtue of being completely disposable after use, safeguarding against bacteria being released onto the next surface cleaned.

There is a growing understanding that disposable 100% microfibre wipes and cloths can offer the significant advantage of scientifically proven superior cleaning efficacy and lower pathogen transmission, while at the same time adding the benefits of being a single use solution. 

Extensive testing conducted under simulated cleaning conditions, against numerous bacteria at University College London recently discovered that the number of median log10 MRSA and K. pneumoniae incorporating a soil suspension on single-use solutions were consistently lower than re-useable (laundered) microfibre cloth comparatives.

Investigations to determine the number of organisms present in pristine, laundered and disposable cleaning materials, presented a comparably commendatory assessment of single-use cleaning products. While spore forming bacteria were recovered from both pristine and laundered microfiber cloths and mop heads used for cleaning hospital rooms after washing, disposable cloths and mops displayed no relevant microbial contamination11.

Efficient mopping and wiping

Given the array of larger communal areas such as corridors, staff recreational areas, waiting rooms and public spaces, cleaning materials used for "on the floor" workplace applications are equally as important for cleaning teams.

Although traditional string mops have, for a long time, been the preferred cleaning tool for such applications, the inability of such solutions to deliver a thorough and even clean often deters cleaning professionals. The inefficiencies produced when busy public areas are wet mopped – due to a greater amount of water being dispensed at the commencement of the clean than towards the end – can make them ineffective for infection control. 

Even after laundering, string mops may still contain germs and bacteria, which can be spread on to the next area to be cleaned – far from ideal when hygiene is of paramount importance. This makes the often time consuming and expensive process of washing heavy duty microfibre flat mops, largely redundant in large healthcare environments.

Add to that the fact that wet mopped floors take time to dry, increasing the possibility of accidental slips and falls, and the pitfalls become increasingly apparent.

It is in this regard that disposable single use microfibre mops are instilling greater confidence in those charged with maintaining cleanliness in working environments. Designed to be pre-saturated in a bucket or trolley system, in the same way as traditional flat microfibre mops, such solutions are ideal for areas where laundry is not practical or hygiene and cross contamination reduction is of the up-most importance.

Advanced cleaning materials

Increasing advancements in the material properties of such solutions – such as the utilisation of patented Chicopee’s Microfibre 4F fabric and APEX® technology – facilitates the efficient removal and locking-in of dust and bacteria from any hard surface. While a significantly reduced risk of cross contamination is enabled by discarding after use rather than laundering, a substantial advantage in these particularly challenging times.

The fibre blend incorporated in disposable microfibre solutions has made great strides in recent years, in order to match and exceed the performance of traditional woven microfibre products. Indeed, a blend of carefully selected fibres delivers a high performing fabric with mechanical cleaning properties as well as efficient liquid distribution for increased dwell times. 

Specially developed for increased fluid dynamics, technical fabrics bring the superior performance of microfibre technology, while at the same time offering all the benefits of a disposable product.

Such material efficiencies in innovative disposable mops ensure the depletion of market leading chemicals like Quat, chlorine, hydrogen and peroxide is eliminated, making the products ideal for disinfecting and reducing chemical usage and waste.

Flexible solutions 

Although the versatility and clinical performance of disposable cloths and mops make them an essential solution for any cleaning professional, inevitably decidedly niche cleaning procedures will require a more tailored solution. Surfaces that are customarily cleaned with spray and wipe systems, for instance, stand to benefit from advanced impregnated wipe systems.

The improved dwell times of innovative solutions – such as Chicopee’s Single Use Dispensing System (S.U.D.S.) – encourage better cleaning behaviour when compared to spray and wipe systems, where chemicals are often wiped off the surface with paper towels too soon. What’s more, the ability to cost-effectively create tailored solutions to exactly fit precise cleaning needs offers an increased degree of flexibility – an essential requirement for cleaning teams operating under budgetary restraints.

A more economical choice when compared to purchasing varying pre-saturated wipes, cleaning professionals can simply add their own chemical of choice to the dispenser bucket and wiper roll to instantly create different high performing impregnated wipes for various areas. Such a degree of flexibility is an essential requirement for cleaning teams operating under budgetary restraints. 

What’s more, all this can be achieved while taking advantage of Chicopee’s patented Microfibre 4F fabric, a technical fabric specifically designed to deliver the power of microfibre cleaning while also releasing the maximum amount of cleaning chemical across the surface, and not locking it into the cloth.

An environmental choice

The choice between working with disposable wipes or washable microfibre wipes and mops in professional cleaning is often based on varying factors – from overall performance to cleaning efficacy and even cost. However, as modern enterprises become more considerate of their environmental impact, the ecological balance of cleaning solutions is becoming an increasingly important influence.

For larger working environments, in particular, there remains a common misconception that the waste cycle of the disposable solutions is a much heavier burden on the environment compared to washing microfibre products. 

However, what many organisations fail to consider is the considerable impact of the laundering process required to maintain the performance and cleanliness of re-usable materials. Over the life cycle of a typical washable wipe and mop, a total of 0.8KwH energy is consumed per wash and 1.6KwH per tumble dry cycle (2.4KwH total). Given that each reusable cloth/mop is used 200 times on average over a period of 3 months, a total of 480KwH would be consumed over the average product life cycle. To put this into perspective, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), such consumption produces 0.339 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent to 842 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle or CO2 emissions from 38.2 gallons of gasoline consumed.

It is in this regard that the effectiveness of disposable microfibre cloths for cleaning surfaces and floors, when compared to re-useable equivalents, can be particularly beneficial. Not only can they markedly aid improvements in infection control management and cross-contamination prevention, but also eradicate time-consuming and high carbon emission emitting laundering processes.

James Taylor is marketing director specialties EMEIA at Berry Global. 

For more information visit chicopee.com/en-eu/microfibre