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Issue: 57 - Sep 15, 2013
Why Cleaning Counts: The Do's and Don’ts of Cleaning Your Hospital
By: Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB
Animal Arts

Cleaning is a chore.  It's not something many veterinarians want to think about too much.  The problem is that in hospital settings, cleaning is very important.  A clean and fresh smelling building reflects well on you and your practice, and it gives your clients confidence about your level of care.  In this month’s post, let's review some common do's and don'ts for keeping a hospital clean.  Our goal is simple:  if you plan it right and think ahead, then keeping your building clean will not have to be a part of your daily dialog.

Match the protocol with the finishes. 

Early in the design process, discuss your cleaning protocols with your architect to be sure that he or she is designing appropriate finishes to match that protocol.  For example, if your architect doesn't understand that you want to hose your isolation room, then the finishes may not be designed to stand up to that type of cleaning. 

In our office, we typically begin by identifying which of the rooms need to be hose cleaned.  These are typically limited to ward spaces.  In these rooms, it is important to go above and beyond to seal the wall systems thoroughly, seal the joint between the floor and the wall, and use moisture-resistant finishes throughout, such as ceiling tiles that are resistant to sagging.  Thinking of these spaces as similar to a shower stall is a reasonable analogy.

In rooms that are mopped clean, you must also pay attention to protocol.  Which disinfectants do you want to use?  Are the finishes appropriate for that disinfectant?  For example, if our clients use bleach, we will be especially careful to specify galvanizing of the metal doors and frames for better durability.  Keep in mind that many sheet flooring products, including some vinyl, linoleum, and rubber, need to be cleaned with a pH neutral cleaner that is approved by the flooring manufacturer.  You may still be able to disinfect these floors, but the disinfectant must be a buffered product.

Ban the traditional mop! 

Have you noticed that the primary purpose of a mop seems to be to push dirt around?  Symptoms of ineffective cleaning include dirt collecting in the grout lines of tile and in the corners of rooms. 

Fortunately, today there are much better solutions for cleaning dry areas, such as replaceable mop heads that can be used in just one area and then stacked neatly in a dirty bucket for laundering.  Invite a sales rep from Rubbermaid or another commercial cleaning product supplier to your practice to have him or her show you all of the new products and methods for cleaning.  You will be surprised at how space and time efficient these new products have become.

Be gentle.

The best mantra to repeat when developing methods for cleaning your building is "be gentle."   Using too much water, too much brute force, and harsh disinfectants often does more harm than good.  Microorganisms love damp and damaged environments, so over cleaning can lead to the growth of resistant biofilms.  Forcefully spraying contaminated surfaces has been demonstrated in studies by the Maddie’s Fund to aerosolize bacteria.  Aggressive cleaning also tends to introduce humidity into a building, which is hard on building mechanical systems and leads to the growth of molds.

Instead, limit your use of water, use gentle disinfectants, use repetition rather than force, and definitely avoid high pressure sprayers.  A dry and sealed surface is your best defense.

In the most successful and long lasting buildings, our veterinary clients have put some of their previously allocated brute force cleaning dollars toward ongoing maintenance projects such as replacing caulking, waxing vinyl floors, touching up paint, and keeping mechanical systems serviced.  These buildings often look and smell as clean and new in five years as they did they day they opened.

Inspire yourself to throw out your old mop, your bottle of bleach, and the fire hose you're using to clean your kennels.  Break the cycle of worrying about cleaning by cleaning more strategically. 

You will be glad to set your cleaning concerns aside, and your building will thank you!

Photo caption

With floor to ceiling tile, this room is designed to be hose cleaned.  The cabinetry is held up high and the lower counter is stainless steel to allow the staff to wash the lower half of this wall.