When a school looks clean and healthy, people tend to have a positive attitude about it. But looks can be deceiving: a clean-looking school may have been cleaned merely for appearance and not for health. Desks may have heavy chemical residues and bacterial contamination. Restrooms may have been treated with a harsh disinfectant the sink handles wiped but not sanitized. A fragranced deodorizer or air freshener may be hanging in the air emitting chemicals without addressing the source of the odor.
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If a school smells like it has just been cleaned, that smell may not be healthy for you or students.
Cleaning for appearance (removing just visible soil so an environment looks clean) is common but often ineffective and may contribute to the problem of unhealthy indoor environments.
A better choice is to clean for healthier environments, which means removing invisible bacteria, micro-sized dust particles, and germs, and avoiding overly toxic chemical cleaners.
Cleaning to control infectious diseases
Effective cleaning of frequently touched school surfaces, combined with hand washing and/or use of hand sanitizers where soap and water is not available, has been shown to significantly reduce the number of infections and reduce absentee rates due to illness by 50 percent or more.
Unsanitary restrooms represent a significant health hazard and have been referred to as bio-hazardous waste-transfer stations. They can be a main source of disease-causing organisms that migrate to other parts of a school. Gastrointestinal infectious agents are most commonly found in restrooms, where proper cleaning and hand washing have been shown to significantly reduce gastrointestinal infections and incidences of diarrhea.
Similarly, desktops, water-fountain toggles, pencil sharpeners, keyboards, and other frequently touched surfaces in schools often have high concentrations of germs. In one study, elementary school children in classrooms that were not properly cleaned were twice as likely to be absent from school, and absent longer, than children in classrooms that were thoroughly cleaned and sanitized daily.
For healthy schools, proper cleaning of commonly touched surfaces and restrooms must be top priority. The emphasis on proper is important. Some ways of cleaning are ineffective in removing microbial contamination, and others have been shown to actually spread contamination to other surfaces. Further, cleaning with chemical cleaners involves the potential for contamination of the environment, which can be harmful to health unless you choose products, methods, and equipment carefully.
Reducing chemical exposure when cleaning
Cleaning means removing dirt, pollutants, and disease-causing microbes. Nowadays, chemicals including fragrances in cleaning agents are used abundantly, despite being potentially harmful to health and ecosystems. Clean should therefore also mean free from harmful chemical residue on surfaces and in the air and water. Only this definition of clean is acceptable for healthy school environments.
(Adapted with permission from Clean and Healthy Schools For Dummies.)
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Not Just for Looks: Outlining Reasons for Clean Schools: Created on February 1st, 2014. Last Modified on March 13th, 2014