As COVID-19 sweeps the world, it’s imperative to use school closures as an opportunity to clean and disinfect all surfaces in the classroom. While routine cleaning is able to keep up with the day-to-day germs that cause the common cold and flu, cleaning staff need disinfecting products such as bleach, disinfectant wipes, and sanitizers to kill the virus responsible for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) on hard surfaces.
Thankfully, cleaning staff should be able to use bleach and other sanitizers for cleaning and disinfecting most of if not all hard surfaces at school. However, as they clean these surfaces, they must take care to protect themselves and the school environment. Many cleaning and disinfecting chemicals are harmful.
Cleaners should focus their cleaning and disinfecting efforts on the following surfaces:
It’s also important to remind cleaning staff to use disinfecting wipes on cleaning equipment as they work and to practice frequent handwashing to keep themselves safe as well. Remember: COVID-19 isn’t the flu. It’s much worse.
While disinfection methods to combat flu germs may be similar in practice, administrators should implore cleaning staff to take extra precautionary measures to protect themselves and their colleagues. By the nature of their work, they’re at a high risk of contracting the novel coronavirus and developing COVID-19 symptoms.
Cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing hard surfaces to kill germs aren’t the same. And it’s important to understand the difference when setting out to kill coronavirus in the classroom.
What are the similarities and differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cleaning is the process of removing germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. It’s the main focus of routine cleaning and maintenance in schools.
Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent), water, and paper towels to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process doesn’t necessarily kill germs, but removing them and the dirt they cling to from a surface lowers their numbers and therefore the risk of spreading infection.
Disinfecting is the process of using a disinfectant chemical such as bleach or disinfectant wipes to totally kill germs on surfaces. This process doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces on its own. But killing germs with a disinfectant chemical after cleaning a surface with soap and water can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Sanitizing is the process of lowering the number of germs on surfaces to a level deemed safe by public health standards or requirements. To lower the risk of spreading infection, cleaning staff can sanitize a surface either by adequately cleaning or disinfecting it.
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What is the proper way to sanitize a surface that has been used for preparing food in school?
The proper way to sanitize food-prep surfaces is to apply a proper mixture of bleach and water (or some other kind of disinfectant) to them and let them air-dry. Once they’re dry, cleaning staff should wipe surfaces down again with paper towels and water to avoid contaminating food with chemicals.
What should you clean, sanitize, or disinfect in a school?
The goal behind cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting is to slow the spread of pathogens. Cleaning staff should clean, sanitize, or disinfect all surfaces and objects students or school staff regularly touch. And they should assume pathogens soil every such surface and object.
Cleaning staff should apply sanitizers and disinfectants to all surfaces, then allow them to air-dry. Even using disinfecting wipes during routine cleaning is better than nothing—surfaces or objects that look clean likely aren’t.
While it may seem like a seismic task—times being what they are—cleaning and disinfecting schools in a sustainable manner aren’t impossible. Once a sustainable cleaning and disinfecting procedure is put into place, the process should become easier for all parties involved, including students.
What is the cost difference between sustainable and nonsustainable cleaning programs and products?
Sustainable cleaning products can cost more than their nonsustainable counterparts due to the specialized sustainable manufacturing processes needed to make and supply them and due to increasing demand. The cost shift can start to negate itself, however, as sustainable cleaning policies fall into place.
The Green Schools Initiative has free available resources about programs, products, or information that can serve any school’s sustainable cleaning program.
What goal is hoped to be achieved by using environmentally sustainable cleaning products?
The goal of environmental sustainability is to protect the health of people and the environment. Ecofriendly cleaning products and supplies are sustainably made from naturally sourced, nontoxic, and biodegradable materials to meet that goal. And organizations conscious of environmental sustainability work diligently to make sure that information and sustainable products are widely available at reasonable prices.
What is the difference between standard and sustainable cleaning efforts in a school facility?
Standard cleaning efforts are proven and largely cost effective, but at the price of using supplies toxic to health and the environment. Unsafe use of or overexposure to standard cleaning chemicals can have negative short- and long-term consequences. While sustainable cleaning efforts may cost more initially in supplies, costs even out as sustainable routine cleaning programs materialize and stay in place over time.
Reducing the spread of flu and coronavirus germs from surfaces to students and staff to protect them and their families is of utmost importance. Rigorous routine cleaning and disinfecting with soap and water and other disinfectants is the best route to accomplish this goal. The CDC has published several different how-to resources, condensed and simplified for you below.
What can schools and parents do to prevent the spread of disease?
Washing hands for twenty seconds with warm water and soap is the best and safest way to kill flu and coronavirus germs on exposed hands. A clear, strict handwashing policy is the first step toward slowing the spread of germs in schools.
The second step is the routine cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting of hard surfaces. Germs thrive on clean-looking surfaces that school staff haven’t cleaned, disinfected, or sanitized with a disinfectant, disinfecting wipes, sanitizer, bleach, or other chemical cleaner.
Soap and water work well, too, but cleaning staff will have to scrub harder and longer to achieve the same results chemical cleaners achieve.
How do you disinfect school surfaces for the coronavirus?
Properly using a bleach-and-water solution, disinfecting wipes, or other chemical disinfecting product on hard surfaces can effectively disinfect a school and reduce the spread of coronavirus. As they disinfect surfaces, cleaning staff must use proper, clean protective wear and ensure their cleaning areas are well ventilated.
Furthermore, they must thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water for twenty seconds both before and after their work is done. This way, they remove germs from their hands before, during, and after they go into the cleaning environment.
What should schools do during an outbreak of the coronavirus disease?
School closures have presented an opportunity to thoroughly clean and disinfect learning and office spaces without putting students, teaching staff, and administrators at risk. Now’s the time for administrators to implement new routine cleaning protocols for when closures end and school resumes.
School closures also offer administrators time to implement new, cohesive handwashing policies to start when closures end.
It’s important now more than ever for administrators to consider adopting sustainable environmental cleaning and disinfecting programs in schools. In the interest of stemming the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing another, all stakeholders in public and private education need to be on board.
Why do schools need sustainable environmental cleaning and disinfecting programs?
Schools need to change their routine cleaning and handwashing procedures and policies to further prevent the spread of pathogens. School populations by their nature are at an increased risk of spreading germs.
By deploying the widespread use of sustainable environmental sanitizers, disinfectants, bleach, and soap for cleaning in schools, education stakeholders stand to prevent the spread of infectious diseases while protecting the health of school populations and their environment.
What is environmental cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting?
Environmental cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting leans on nontoxic biodegradable chemicals sourced from natural materials. By comparison, standard cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting procedures, though more effective for killing infectious pathogens, lean on hazardous chemicals that can damage human health and the environment if cleaners use them incorrectly.
You can find many resources online, but the University of Missouri has published an easy-to-read list of common standard disinfectants, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. By comparison, common ingredients in ecofriendly cleaners, which are not as effective for killing infectious pathogens, include the following:
How is a sustainable cleaning program implemented in a school?
Sustainable cleaning programs start by looking at cost-effective ways to cut down on germs and the spread of pathogens. Nothing is more effective that handwashing. Handwashing policies, coupled with routine cleaning that involves sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces, are the most sustainable for stemming the spread of pathogens.