We are now entering year two of the pandemic. As during the first year, proper and effective cleaning strategies remain some of our best tools in slowing the spread of the disease. Further, these “proper and effective cleaning strategies” do not just apply to those high-touch surfaces we hear so much about. They can also apply to floor and carpet care.
Understanding how we clean and maintain these floor surfaces, with the goal of minimizing or eliminating the spread of the virus, can become a bit more complicated than that.
Here, we assess some frequently asked floor and carpet care questions as they relate to COVID-19.
Can COVID-19 be found on carpets?
The answer is yes. For instance, studies have shown that the pathogens that cause the disease can collect on shoe bottoms. If contaminated and then walked over carpet, not only can soils on shoe bottoms be transferred to the carpet but so can the virus. Also, most coronavirus pathogens start out as airborne. Before gravity eventually pulls them down to surfaces, including carpet. The carpet welcomes them. Studies completed since the 1970s report that carpet absorbs all types of airborne impurities, just like a sponge absorbs water. It has been suggested the pathogens that cause the virus can potentially survive on carpet for as long as a few days.
Can carpet be disinfected?
The answer, which many facility managers and cleaning contractors may be surprised to hear, is no. According to the (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency, only hard and nonporous surfaces can be disinfected. Carpet is a soft surface and is porous. As a result, we can only sanitize carpet. Sanitizing removes most, but not all, pathogens from the carpet. It is enough to protect human health.
How do we sanitize carpet?
What cleaning professionals can do is pre-spray the carpet with a disinfectant approved by Health Canada,1 proven to eliminate* the pathogens that cause the virus. In the U.S., the EPA has created the “N-List.”2 These disinfectants have also been tested and proven to eliminate or inactivate the pathogens that cause the virus.
When we pre-spray carpet, we properly dilute water with a cleaning solution or a disinfectant, before spraying it over the carpet. This allows the chemical to dwell on the carpet per time specified on the label, which is necessary when using a disinfectant, and begin breaking down soils and eliminating pathogens so that they can be removed from the carpet. We do this by using a carpet extractor or, as an alternative, what are called “no-touch” cleaning systems with a carpet extractor attachment. These machines will remove the disinfectant, as well as all moisture, soils, and pathogens from the carpet. This is the most effective way to clean and sanitize the carpet.
Should the carpet be cleaned first before sanitizing?
Yes. Whenever we disinfect or sanitize a surface, we must always clean it first. Cleaning removes soils so the disinfectant works more effectively. Disinfecting or sanitizing eliminates pathogens. In fact, the label of every EPA-registered disinfectant marketed in the U.S. states that it’s a violation of federal law to use the product inconsistent with its labeling, which requires the surface to be cleaned first before using the disinfectant.
Floors and COVID-19
Just as the pathogens that cause the coronavirus can find their way onto carpet, so can they be found on hard surface floors.
Again, the only variable is how long they’re able to survive on hard surface floors. But, unlike carpet, we can disinfect floors, using disinfectants certified to eliminate the pathogens that cause the coronavirus.
Can COVID-19 pathogens be removed from floors with mopping and a proven disinfectant?
We should never mop floors, and especially now with concerns about the virus. Mops become soiled and contaminated as soon as they are applied to the floor. If the floor is contaminated, the pathogens can collect on the mop, in the mop water, and then spread on the floor. This is based on studies that have focused on looking for ways to prevent healthcare-acquired infections. Not only that, as the mop is used, the soils and contaminants collected on the mop and in mop water reduce the efficacy of the disinfectant.
What alternatives can be used to clean floors?
For exceptionally large surface areas, automatic scrubbers can be used. As discussed earlier, the floor must be cleaned first with the “auto scrubber” and then disinfected. Then a Health Canada or N-List disinfectant can be pre-sprayed on the floor. Allow for proper dwell time as dictated on the disinfectant label.
For most other floors, no-touch cleaning or “dispense and vac” cleaning systems can be used. At least one manufacturer has developed an N-List disinfectant engineered specifically for these systems, which is both a cleaner and a disinfectant. This eliminates the second step necessary with an auto scrubber, which is a time and cost savings.
Does the equipment used to clean and sanitize carpet or disinfect floors need to be cleaned and disinfected as well?
Yes. All precautions must be taken due to COVID-19, including making sure cleaning equipment is cleaned and disinfected. Further, this should be performed frequently. With carpet extractors, no-touch, and dispense and vac systems, the process is fairly easy. These machines will have a dump hose, which can be placed in a toilet or floor drain. Fill the tanks of the machine with a properly diluted cleaning solution and then flush out, through the dump hose, the water and solution. Repeat with a Health Canada (N-List) disinfectant. Wipe clean and disinfect all exterior parts of the machine and allow the machine to air dry.
With an automatic scrubber, the process can be more complicated and because these machines are complex, the cleaning process can be difficult. Further, some cleaning solutions/disinfectants may not be compatible with different parts in the auto scrubber. They can corrode metals, plastics, and rubber.
Always check with the manufacturer of the auto scrubber before cleaning and disinfecting the machine. Other than that, all exterior areas of the machine can be cleaned with a cleaning solution and then cleaned again, using a disinfectant.
Is this the way carpet and hard-surface floors will need to be cleaned beyond the pandemic?
Most public health and cleaning experts suggest yes. COVID-19, once again, has changed everything. Cleaning for health is real and has now become the mantra of the professional cleaning industry.
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.
*Currently, we no longer say a disinfectant “kills” pathogens. Not all disinfectants work the same way. Instead, we now say it “eliminates” them or “inactivates” them.