Straight Talk: Measuring Cleanliness [Video]


NORTHBROOK, Ill.—May 8, 2020—In this edition of Straight Talk with Jeff Cross, John Richter of Miami University of Ohio and a featured expert presenter at CIRI events, discusses the process and importance of measuring cleanliness, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Richter, a clinical lecturer with experience in the cleaning industry and expertise in statistical quality control, explains that cleaning is defined as the effective removal of unwanted matter. From a quality control perspective, he says we need to measure how well we do that; in other words, “Are we effectively removing the matter and containing that from the environments that we’re cleaning?”

As the economy reopens and people are repopulating buildings and public spaces, they will be wondering how clean and sanitary those environments are. So how do we measure that? Richter says that in the past, we have relied on sight and smell to tell us that an environment is clean, but in the new reality of COVID-19, the matter we are most concerned with removing can’t be seen or smelled, so we have to rely on an ATP measurement.

ATP stands for “adenosine triphosphate,” which is found in all biological matter. A high ATP reading indicates that even though a surface may look clean, it is covered in biological contaminants, some of which may be harmful like bacteria and viruses.  Richter explains that a measurement like ATP is important because “it actually verifies at the cellular level how clean a surface is.”

Richter gives an example of going into a restaurant and asking if the tables had been cleaned. He was assured they had and the tables did appear to be perfectly clean; however, when he swabbed the table and tested it, the results came back at 3,000 ATP, “which is just crazy filthy, just tons of bio-contaminants on that surface […] but it looked clean, and that’s the scary thing about it, and that’s what we’re dealing with,” said Richter.

Richter says that for a long time, we have needed to “question and challenge our cleaning methodologies.” He gives the example of a study he did in classrooms where he measured the cleanliness of desktops before and after cleaning them by spraying a product and wiping with a microfiber towel, as many cleaners might do. What surprised him was that by the last four desks in the classroom, the ATP load actually increased on those after cleaning. This tells Richter that he was cross-contaminating because the “cleaning tool is getting saturated with soil and then depositing that back out on the latter desks, instead of actually removing, and those are the kinds of things that are eye-opening when you start to measure.”

Richter recommends that everyone challenge how our cleaning methodologies work. “Improvement begins with questioning, it begins with challenging, it begins with saying, is there a better way of doing this to be more effective in terms of removing unwanted matter.” Ideally, cleaning companies would buy equipment like ATP meters to measure cleanliness, but if that’s not possible, Richter suggests doing research and taking a data-driven approach to the most effective cleaning methodologies for different types of surfaces.

As far as how frequently testing is needed, Richter points out that, “cleaning is a process, and what we’re trying to do is control the effectiveness of the outcomes.” We don’t have the resources to continuously test our cleaning every time, but we should be spot checking so that there’s accountability, measurement, and tracking to ensure that our cleaning processes remain effective.

From a business standpoint, Richter says “measurement is a differentiator.” The ability to measure cleanliness and prove to the customer that the environment is free of contaminants is a relatively inexpensive but powerful selling point that can set you apart from the competition, especially in the post-COVID-19 world.

Watch the complete episode of Straight Talk with Jeff Cross below, and find more Straight Talk episodes on Take part in the engaging online conversations on industry topics by joining the Straight Talk Facebook group today.


Cleanfax Staff

Cleanfax provides cleaning and restoration professionals with information designed to help them manage and grow their businesses.

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