After a hot summer, we all look forward to those cool autumn evenings- the ones that are filled with bonfires and trying to eat our weight in s’mores.
However, with the changing of the seasons, we may get something we didn’t ask for: allergies. Seasonal allergies affect more than 50 million Americans and is the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. In short, the danger of allergies doesn’t only ruin our nights around the fire pit, they can be a debilitating force leveled at those who work in our facilities.
With all the dust, pollen, ragweed, and other sinister things working against us, we don’t need anything to make it worse. However, your cleaning company may not be doing you any favors. Many cleaning companies ignore the danger of allergies and neglect the importance of indoor air quality, which is a big no-no. With so many people battling seasonal allergies, our cleaning crews should be equipped to handle not only basic cleaning techniques but improving the overall air quality of our facilities.
Understanding Indoor Air Quality
Allergens are a huge problem. Especially during this time of year. When it comes to our facilities, we must pay special attention to our IAQ (indoor air quality). Buildings that have a low IAQ score create all sorts of problems for their occupants and are even worse on those who already suffer from allergies (seasonal or otherwise). Since people tend to spend as much time at work as they do at home, the danger of allergies can be a menacing foe to reckon with. All in all, a poor IAQ can irritate and spawn some very serious health issues.
Prolonged exposure to higher levels of allergens have the potential to cause colds, asthma, lung disease, heart disease, and in some cases cancer. Allergens are so problematic that they are one of the leading causes of absenteeism and low workplace productivity. The CDC even states that allergies “can range from merely bothersome to life-threatening.” Throwing in words like life-threatening should be enough to give us and our janitorial teams pause. But the tendency is to lean into the appearance of clean instead of actually arming ourselves against the danger of allergies and all that entails. We must shift our thinking and rally behind the health and safety concerns that plague us.
The most important step you or your janitorial service can take in improving your IAQ is simply identifying the primary source of allergens in your building. You can always purchase an air quality tester and see where you lie on the IAQ scale or you can skip that all together and well… just keep reading.
Let’s break down where the highest concentration of allergens exist and how you can adjust your cleaning program to combat the danger of allergies (all while raising your IAQ and overall health of your facility).
Carpet is notoriously bad for trapping and breeding allergens. Particles take up residence in carpet fibers and, due to foot traffic, are able to be launched into the air we breathe over and over again.
Something you may not be aware of is that most cleaning companies are taught to spot-vacuum your carpeted areas. This is probably in your contract and you don’t even realize it. It’s not necessarily a bad practice as it can speed up overall cleaning time and free up your janitorial crew to concentrate elsewhere. But if this is an everyday occurance, and your cleaning crews are completely foregoing full-vacuums, you are creating a recipe for disaster.
Make sure your contract has a schedule for full-carpet vacuuming at least once or twice a week and that their vacuums are equipped with a regularly cleaned and maintained HEPA filter (doesn’t do much good if your vacuum is just recycling the allergens). Also, in seasons of elevated allergens, simply request full vacuum services. A good janitorial service will happily comply.
It’s also beneficial to schedule quarterly carpet cleaning services. However, not any old carpet cleaning method will work to rid you of the danger of allergies. It’s important that the service you order and receive is an extraction process. You want to pull the dirt and allergies up and out of the deepest fibers of your carpet. Bonnet cleaning and other similar methods are aimed at cleaning the top layer of carpet and simply push the soil and allergens deeper into the fibers. It may look great but it won’t improve your IAQ.
Wet things are bad things. When there are elevated areas of dampness or moisture, you are giving mold, allergens, and all sorts of things an opportunity to overrun your facility. This is particularly harmful in restrooms, where faucets tend to leak, toilets sweat, and mop water doesn’t evaporate post-cleaning. To ensure a moisture-free restroom, fix any leaky pipes or faucets and instruct your janitorial teams to not overly wet their mops or floors. It’s also a good idea to clean your exhaust and/or ventilation systems regularly.
When seasonal allergies attack, it might be in your best interest to increase the amount of cleanings delegated to the restroom areas. The largest spread of germs and allergens can usually be traced back to the restrooms, so placing emphasis on these areas are of the utmost importance (for more tips on how to combat the danger of allergies through restroom cleanliness, check out our blog: Three Ways to Keep Your Restrooms Clean).
Aerosols and Chemicals
Green cleaning is important. The danger of allergies is that they can be almost anything. From organic to chemical. It’s critical to point out that many people have allergic reactions to the harsh chemicals found in typical cleaning supplies. If you’ve ever cleaned your bathroom with a closed door and a strong bottle of toilet bowl cleaner, you probably know this to be true as well.
Trading aerosols and abrasive chemicals for greener options will provide better air quality and overall working environment. The strong chemicals may provide a beautiful appearance but the pollution they are creating with their fumes could be doing more harm than good. Check out our blog on the dangers of commercial cleaning products and some greener options to help you eliminate health risks.
The air that circulates in your facility is recycled through your HVAC system. If you don’t maintain a regular schedule for switching out your air filters, you are doing yourself and your employees a huge disservice. Without regular air filter maintenance, allergens are being continually pushed through your facility and creating severe health risks to those in your building. Retail chains, small office settings, and other smaller occupancy buildings should change their filters every 12 weeks. Industrial facilities, depending on the nature of business, could require filter changes weekly.
You can significantly reduce the danger of allergies simply by keeping supply vents clean and your return air grills unblocked, that way you won’t unbalance the HVAC system or affect the ventilation of a neighboring office or area. Furniture, boxes or other materials near supply vents or return air grills may also affect air flow. Key indicators that air flow may be restricted is if certain spaces become too hot, too cold, stuffy or drafty. (Check out this nifty article from the EPA, to learn more about the importance of air flow as it pertains to your facility’s IAQ.)
All it really comes down to is this: it’s important to take the time to work on the allergen problems in the workplace. Seasonal allergies make us more aware of their presence but it should be at the forefront of your cleaning every day. Appearance is important but the danger of allergies is a very real threat. Health must be the focus when it comes to cleanliness. Healthy employees lead to a happier and more productive workplace. Eliminating allergens is as important to your health as it is to your bottom line.