zero-energy schools

ISSA standard instructs school cleaning practices

Effective cleaning impacts spread of viral disease, airborne pollutants
Friday, March 6, 2020
By Mark Warner

Children are probably the most valuable persons on the planet, so it’s overwhelmingly important to make sure they’re in an environment that is healthy and safe, while enhancing their performance and productivity. This led to the creation of ISSA Clean Standard: K-12 Schools in 2013.

The goal of the standard is to provide schools, both private and public, with a tool that will help them measure and monitor the effectiveness of the cleaning processes at their facilities thereby contributing to the quality of the indoor environment for the benefit of students, staff and other building occupants. It focuses on the desired levels of cleanliness that can be reasonably achieved, recommended monitoring and inspection procedures to measure cleaning effectiveness, and how results can be used to assess and improve cleaning processes and products, ultimately resulting in a clean, healthy and safe learning environment.

These elements are intended to be used in a systematic process to determine the background condition and cleanliness of a school, and also provide for periodic measurement of cleaning effectiveness at a facility. In this regard, the standard empowers schools to select a cleaning process that is the most effective and economical.

This is especially important in light of the growing body of studies that indicate effective cleaning has a positive impact on the health and productivity of students. It has been established that level of cleanliness is a key factor involved in the spread of viral disease in crowded indoor establishments, including schools. In addition, improved cleaning of floors and desks in schools has been shown to reduce upper respiratory symptoms.

Further, the exposure and health benefits associated with a reduction of airborne pollutants, achieved through effective cleaning practices, have been demonstrated in a long-term cleaning effectiveness study, while recent studies collectively indicate the targeted cleaning of high-touch points in schools result in reduced illnesses related to bacterial contamination, reduced sick building syndrome symptoms and reduced absenteeism due to infectious illness.

Setting (and meeting) the bar

The standard sets a bar for schools to aspire to in terms of the cleanliness of their facilities. By integrating measurement into the cleaning process, a school can be sure the bar is being met. Without an objective goal, schools have a very difficult time validating their service and quality is living up to expectations.

Along the same lines, the standard allows schools to easily demonstrate the effectiveness of products, processes and systems. This is especially important as new and innovative products are introduced. The unfortunate truth is one’s first inclination is often to be skeptical of new products, yet the standard can immediately show the new product (or process) works, and probably even better. In this respect, the standard fosters innovation and can further set a school’s cleaning program apart.

In addition, the standard allows a school to compare products and processes to ensure the most effective ones are being used. Even if products and processes are effective, there is always the possibility that workers are not using them correctly. The standard should be used to ensure workers are performing their tasks as expected and therefore be a key component of an internal training program.

The standard also works in concert with the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) and CIMS-Green Building criteria to help schools operate as efficiently and successfully as possible. By combining the management and sustainability elements of CIMS/CIMS-GB with the measurement and monitoring protocols of the standard, schools are prepared to deliver a healthy, productive environment.

The standard should be used as part of a comprehensive training program to help cleaning workers understand the connection between cleaning and health, the importance of their jobs, and, ultimately, why cleaning is important.

The standard can help justify budgets and lead to an increase in cleaning to the benefit of all building occupants. By basing staffing levels on well-defined expectations and key performance outcomes, schools can demonstrate the true value of clean and show the benefits associated with an increased cleaning regimen. The standard, therefore, helps those who are responsible for cleaning to connect with administrators, business managers and principals to demonstrate how cleaning has a positive impact on the bottom line.

The standard also helps alleviate parents’ apprehension over the condition of schools. Many parents are understandably concerned their children are not being taught in an environment that is optimal for learning and advancement. Implementation of the standard demonstrates to parents the school is providing a desired setting.

Most schools perform audits to ensure their facilities are being cleaned as required by the scope of work. The standard helps schools and their service/product suppliers perform a site-based assessment of current cleanliness levels and overall conditions. Specifically, a school can use the standard and its sample audit forms to more easily perform assessments, identifying areas (especially high-touch points) that may need attention.

Building bonds with suppliers

Most schools are no longer looking for a service provider that simply cleans the facility; they want a one that is a true partner. The ultimate goal should be to find providers that are capable of serving as a true business advisor and can help schools meet their bottom line goals. The standard provides a ‘partnership platform’ that is scientifically based and focuses on products, procedures, training and measurement. This helps solidify and create long-term relationships.

Schools are also looking for information on the latest innovations and processes. In that regard, an understanding of the standard helps school representatives better understand effective cleaning processes and products, and the most promising ways to increase efficiency and improve operations. In addition, schools can work directly with their service and product providers to jointly ensure the delivery of optimal service.

In today’s market, it can be very difficult for a school cleaning program to set itself apart and demonstrate its commitment to excellence. By investing in standardization and striving to be the best it can be, a school can create a foundation of distinction and set itself apart.

Mark Warner is the Cleaning Management Institute education manager for ISSA. Mark has more than 30 years’ cleaning industry experience, is a past member of the ISSA board of directors and has been an ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) certified expert since the program’s inception. He is currently involved with the ANSI S400 standard for commercial cleaning principles, which is being developed through the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), with support and active contributions from ISSA, and other associations and individuals. Mark can be reached at


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