Electrostatic sprayers. P100 masks. Hazmat suits.
These are just a few of the weapons cleaning companies are using to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, such companies have become significant in assisting with the reopening of hundreds of businesses, including wineries and hotels.
And as these companies refine detailed procedures developed while the shelter-in-place order have been in effect, they are also learning how to best protect residents, visitors and workers.
“We find ourselves in an educator role, teaching individuals about the difference between cleaning and disinfection. This is a significant part of preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said Claudine Ripert, owner of Northbay Maintenance, Inc., a Petaluma-based maintenance company that services businesses and homes in Napa, Marin and Sonoma counties.
Ripert said Northbay Maintenance has received many inquiries from Napa Valley businesses and also reached out to owners to explain what processes and tools to use.
“When we started receiving about 40 calls a day in late March, we began to understand this wasn’t just about our business or businesses in general. Cleaning affects our entire community,” said Ripert.
Cleaning companies are also working to address the lack of standard methods and results in the industry.
“The most important concepts we are addressing now include “dwell time,” how long a disinfectant must sit undisturbed on a surface to kill the virus, and why disposable cleaning materials like paper towels are preferable to rags. We’re also teaching customers to identify high-touch surfaces, including phones, doorknobs, and light switches,” said Ripert.
Gavin Smith, owner of Atomic Janitorial, a Napa-based green cleaning company that serves businesses and homes in Napa County and some of Sonoma County, said reopening is a good time to introduce employees to new cleaning techniques such as sanitizing.
“I think people are more conscious than they’ve ever been about cleaning. I’m hopeful there will continue to be a huge demand for cleaning services going forward. More awareness and improved practices should help our society become safer and healthier,” said Smith.
Cleaning after COVID-19: the basics
New concepts for cleaning during the pandemic include waiting 24 hours to clean or disinfect an area, cleaning and disinfecting all areas used by a person known to be sick, including bathrooms and common areas, and vacuuming with a vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
These suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cover how to clean a facility like an office. The CDC also offers suggestions on how to clean a home, with tips like using gloves when removing garbage bags and providing separate cleaning supplies to a family member known to be sick for use in their own room.
One of the most important concepts local cleaning companies are emphasizing is how to first clean a surface, and then disinfect it.
“The goal is to clean the surface thoroughly with sanitizer and then use a second application of sanitizer that creates a barrier from the virus. I use Envirox 117 heavy duty sanitizer, a green product made from hydrogen peroxide and orange oil,” said Smith.
Ripert said Northbay Maintenance uses electrostatic spray technology, which involves charging a liquid and passing it through a sprayer nozzle.
The process produces charged droplets that repel one another and seek out surfaces, wrapping around an object to coat all of the sides evenly.
“This method covers areas that are shadowed, in the corner, and hard to reach. It’s the opposite of using an aerosol or pump spray that would raise particles up and get them everywhere, or of disinfectants that would result in liquid pooling, cleaning some spots but not others,” said Ripert.
Serafin Miranda, owner of SBA Janitorial, LLC, a Petaluma-based company that cleans homes and businesses in Marin, Napa, and Sonoma counties, said cleaning companies must provide the right type and amount of personal protective equipment for employees.
“My employees now must wear masks, gloves, and gowns. They must also socially distance while working. In addition, we require that clients be out of the home or office during cleaning,” said Miranda.
He also said he requires employees to take their temperature before starting a job and wipe down all equipment after leaving a job. Ripert requires workers to wear P100 masks, TyVek suits, and gloves. Smith requires workers wear hazmat suits when necessary, but always wear masks and gloves.
“It’s a lot harder to lift up equipment and work in enclosed areas in suits and masks, especially when it’s hot and you’re expected to socially distance. But washing our hands, then putting on our gloves, then our suits, that’s what’s needed to protect ourselves from each other,” said Smith.
Getting used to new practices
Cleaning companies are now beginning to see an uptick after months of diminished activity. Businesses and residents should talk with an owner to learn how long a job may take and what will be involved, experts say.
“A lot of workplaces and second homes have been unoccupied for some time. These buildings may take longer to clean,” said Miranda.
Smith said the pandemic also requires social distancing between clients and cleaning staff such that it is best for clients to be out of a facility or home while cleaning staff are working.
“We gently ask customers if they can temporarily relocate to a garage, detached unit, or yard until we are done,” said Smith.
Clients may also see new faces on cleaning teams.
“Initially, I lost 75 percent of my workforce due to safety concerns and parents’ need to care for children who were no longer attending school in person. I’ve now hired and trained many new team members,” said Smith.
Miranda said a 90 percent drop in commercial cleaning requests and a 100 percent drop in residential cleaning requests between mid-March and early June required him to hire and train new staff as well.
“For many people, cleaning is a second job that they do at night. They are looking for work close to their homes. I hired a number of new employees to take on new customers looking for cleaning during morning and afternoon shifts,” said Miranda.
Miranda added that his company is also still dealing with restrictions on openings, as well as testing for personnel who may have had contact with individuals who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Despite the many changes, cleaning company owners are excited to see tourists and employees return.
“Cleaning the right way helps a great deal in places where people are in close contact, from assisted living facilities to restaurants. We want businesses to thrive and be prosperous. We want to help restore a sense of normalcy in Napa Valley,” said Ripert.
Watch now: how to clean and disinfect your home