by Scott Warrington

Products to protect fiber and fabric surfaces from soil and stains are familiar to us all. Brands such as Scotchgard and Teflon are household names.

These and similar products have proven beneficial to end-users and contractors. Today I want to alert you to a newer class of protectors. These protect both structural surface and furnishings from micro-organisms including mold spores and pathogenic bacteria. In doing so, they also protect the health of users and occupants of protected spaces.

Surfaces may look clean but may not be completely clean. Studies have shown that frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, computer keyboards and mice could harbor more organisms than a toilet seat. ATP meter readings can reach into the thousands.

In fact, almost any surface you can think of is a potential breeding ground for unwanted microbes. The cleaning industry has been rapidly changing in the last five years. It is no longer sufficient for a facility to simply look clean.

Today more than ever, people are aware of the harm unwanted bacteria, mold and viruses can cause. Every day news reports call attention to the consequences of unwanted microbes in our built environment. The media headlines report cleaning failures on a regular basis, informing us of widespread outbreaks of sickness or super bugs that have no known treatment.

Today the healthcare, fitness and hospitality industries are under public and private scrutiny and are expected to maintain the highest levels of cleanliness. Anywhere that people congregate, the potential liability of inadequate cleaning practices and frequencies is a growing concern. Property managers, homeowners and the insurance industry are taking steps to protect their property from unwanted microbial growth.

Public awareness is growing, and today most people agree that cleaning should be combined with controlling microbial growth. Surface protectors are now proving to deliver both. An old adage applies: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The process is to clean, disinfect and protect surfaces using bound antimicrobial protection to inhibit the spread and potential mutation of microbial growth.

Let’s look at some case studies that demonstrate this:

Inflatables park

The Cape Cod Times recently reported on Cape Cod Inflatables Park in West Yarmouth, MA, and its efforts to keep bacteria from forming and spreading after a bought of problems the previous year with park visitors developing “rashes caused by certain strains of staphylococcus and streptococcus.”

After last year’s incidences, park owner Joe Marrama began looking for ways to improve health conditions at the park, and chose the “bacteria-killing compound” BactiBarrier, according to the article, which says “The BactiBarrier Cleaning system consists of the initial application of a disinfectant, followed by the application of an odorless and colorless positively charged polymer, which permanently bonds to a treated surface.”

“You could think of it as a layer of electrically charged spears,” BactiBarrier says on its website. “When a microorganism comes in contact with the treated surface, the spear punctures the cell membrane and the electric charge shocks the cell.”

The article explained that BactiBarrier already is used often in medical centers and surgical suites as well as at other amusement and related parks.

Following issues raised last summer when some bacteria samples were described as “too high to count,” the park is now ready to open to a new season.

Travel-stop restrooms

A chain of travel stop/convenience stores was concerned about restroom odors even though the restrooms were being regularly cleaned by a touchless spray system. Application of a disinfectant was part of the process.

Wanting to be proactive, they took steps to treat surfaces with an antimicrobial protection system. The results were even better than anticipated, with lower bacteria counts and no unpleasant odors in the areas tested.

Children’s hospital

The cleaning contractor responsible for several public areas at the Walt Disney Pavilion at the Florida Hospital for Children wished to provide more than just cleaning. His idea of a higher level of service was to include protection from microbes.

This was a way of setting himself apart from other service providers. He added surface protection with a barrier product that would eliminate fungus and bacteria with no poisons that could leach from the surface. The service included regular checks with ATP to provide scientific proof of what was being done.

By proposing something competing cleaners were not offering, the cleaning contractor had a new way to sell his services. He was able to develop a cost-effective partnership with the hospital.

The waiting area includes wooden and upholstered seating, carpet, tile and grout as well as an indoor playground loved by the children.

In keeping with the high standards of cleanliness, the hospital decided to implement the concept of “clean, disinfect and protect.” Any of the steps alone would not offer the benefit of all three.

The cleaning firm began by cleaning all areas with a combination cleaner and EPA-registered disinfectant in preparation to apply the protector. They treated the characters, carpets and playground walls followed by the application of a system to protect those surfaces against potentially harmful bacteria.

To demonstrate to their client the effectiveness of the protection and see where any adjustments might need to be made in cleaning method or frequency, the cleaning contractor used an ATP meter to monitor the presence of bacteria after the cleaning. The initial objective was to get the ATP number below 10 following cleaning and maintain readings below 100 in all reachable playground touch points, excluding the carpet and tile.

On Baloo the bear, readings were taken at two feet, four feet and six feet from the floor. Twenty-five days later, the two-foot reading on Baloo’s stomach was a 56; on the hand at four feet was 256; and on the chest at six feet, the reading was a six. Another test revealed the nose of Flounder the fish read 96 at two feet off the ground and a 36 on the forehead, which is 4 feet from the carpet.

The service was definitely working well, but the tests did reveal the high touch points for the children were around the three- to four-foot level, and these need to be wiped clean using a microfiber cloth a couple of times each week to prevent the formation of film or buildup of soil that would cover the protective layer.

A baseline was established for how often the area needed to be cleaned and disinfected, in essence developing a cleaning frequency for the waiting room. Today a sign hangs in the waiting area to reassure families that the facility has taken steps to protect the children that play there.

Cleaning alone is not sufficient. The single step of applying a disinfectant is not enough. Clean, disinfect and protect is becoming the new standard.

Surface protection is not a substitute for cleaning any more than carpet protector is a substitute for cleaning carpet. But it does offer an additional protective measure for sensitive, high-touch areas. How important is this to your client?


Scott Warrington has more than 40 years of experience in the carpet cleaning industry and related fields. He serves as the technical support specialist for Bridgepoint Systems and Interlink Supply. He can be contacted at [email protected].