Microfiber Cloths Excel Over Cotton

With 80 percent of infections being transmitted through direct contact, it’s no wonder that proper cleaning is as vital as good personal hygiene. In addition to identifying key areas that harbor infectious bacteria, custodial managers are charged with implementing best practices for the removal of these microorganisms. This includes providing custodians with appropriate cleaning tools to mitigate the spread of germs.

Cleaning cloths are an important component of any custodial program, but often facilities settle for cheap rags in place of quality products that facilitate cleaning and disinfection.

“We’ll spend $150,000 on a UV robot housekeeper, but we’ll nickel and dime the cleaning cloths,” says Mark Heller, president of Hygiene Performance Solutions in Toronto. “So we might use a torn-up, discarded towel rather than a finished, engineered product.”

Yet, given the right tools, Heller believes custodians aspire to meet the standards set forth by housekeeping to achieve and maintain a clean, healthy environment.

Increase Your Fiber

When choosing an appropriate cloth engineered to remove soil and bacteria, there’s no substitute for microfiber, say consultants.

“Microfiber cloths are synthetic and have grooves built into the fibers themselves, so they’re very absorbent and trap soils,” explains Steve Tinker, chemist and past president of the American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA), Shawnee Mission, Kansas. “As a result, soils can be picked up very quickly and held in the fibers very efficiently.”

Although cotton is also highly absorbent, it is not as effective as microfiber at grabbing and holding onto soil.

“The pros of cotton are that it’s readily available and fairly cheap, but it doesn’t do a very good job of soil collection,” says Darrel Hicks, author of Infection Prevention for Dummies. “When it comes to infection prevention, our number-one job is to remove the soil from the surface so that the disinfectant has a better chance to work.”

Another disadvantage of cotton cloths is the problem of quat binding, which occurs when fabrics have a strong attraction for the active ingredients in quat-based disinfectants, thereby reducing their efficacy. For this reason, Hicks is seeing an increasing number of facilities switching from cotton to microfiber cloths.

University of Minnesota Medical Center — Fairview in Minneapolis, switched from cotton to microfiber cloths several years ago after testing the efficacy of both materials.

“We found microfiber will pick up the spores and microorganisms, even without the use of disinfectant, whereas cotton will just wipe them around,” says Amanda Guspiel, environmental infection preventionist. “We use quat-based disinfectants with the microfiber, and we haven’t had any issues with the quat binding that occurs with cotton.”

Guspiel has seen a reduction in the number of hospital acquired infections since switching to microfiber cloths.

Infection Control Is High Priority for Healthcare Facility Managers

Maple grove medical cleaning

For facility managers in healthcare facilities, working with an organization’s infection control staff to do everything possible to prevent HAIs — healthcare-associated infections — is of high priority, especially in light of the recent Ebola scare. Among the areas of primary concern to FMs in managing this problem is air pressure and airflow.

The fancy term for HAI is “nosocomial” — it means an infection a patient or visitor acquires at a healthcare facility. What’s frightening is that they’re amazingly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 20 patients has a HAI on any given day, and there are about 1.7 million cases — leading to 99,000 deaths — of HAI in U.S. healthcare facilities each year.

Three main areas of an FM’s core competencies are directly related to infection control effectiveness: air filtration and room pressure relationships, cleaning and housekeeping, and waste management and disposal.

Pressure and Airflow

“The most important thing about infection control is air flow,” says Bert Gumeringer, assistant vice president for facility operations at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “Do you have the right exchange rates? Is the pressure negative when it needs to be negative and positive when it needs to be positive?”

Isolation rooms for patients with very infectious diseases — like tuberculosis and Ebola — must be negatively pressured to prevent air (and airborne pathogens) from escaping and infecting others. Conversely, says Gumeringer, patients who are immune-compromised must be placed in rooms with positive pressure to keep contaminants away. Operating rooms must also be positively pressured, because “you don’t want dirty air to be sucked into a room,” says Alan Neuner, vice president of facility operations for Geisinger Health System.

Properly pressurizing these isolation rooms is standard operating procedure for any healthcare facility, but where things get more complicated in regards to airflow is when changes are made to building operating systems or when performing any level of facility work — from replacing ceiling tiles to full-scale renovations.

Making a change to the temperature in a patient’s room as a response to a hot/cold call can also change airflow rates and pressures. “The engineering staff is well-intended,” says Gumeringer. “They’re trying to meet the needs of the customer.” So identifying a way to monitor pressure and airflow in patient rooms is important.

For rooms where directional pressure and airflow can’t be compromised, Neuner says his facilities include devices that monitor pressure and flow, and alarms if something is amiss. For less critical areas, quarterly checks are performed to ensure airflow and pressures are within tolerance. At Texas Children’s, the largest pediatric hospital in the United States, Gumeringer says his staff performs spot checks, but also has contracted with a company to do monthly checks on airflow. Gumeringer says the cost of this contract more than pays for itself, citing CDC statistics that a single HAI can cost $20,000 to $40,000 to treat. As well, he says, more than 50 percent of hospitals in Texas have been cited for not having proper airflow. “We believe in this testing very strongly,” he says. “The duty we all have is not only to look at cost, but also to look at the impact to the patient and the family.

By Greg Zimmerman– January 2015 –