Green Cleaning: Green vs. Clean

The allure of daytime cleaning.

In this economic climate, schools and universities face enormous pressure to cut costs. As a result, green is no longer just about reducing negative health and environmental impacts, but includes a focus on the other green: money.

One emerging strategy is cleaning during the day, frequently coined "daytime cleaning." Daytime cleaning’s potential for saving money comes in two areas: reducing energy costs associated with lighting, heating, cooling and ventilating a building that otherwise would be unoccupied; and a small reduction in staff. Initial data seems to indicate that these energy savings can range from 7 to 9 percent or more; reductions in direct labor costs will depend on the number of people whose jobs are eliminated.

Reducing energy can be relatively easy to achieve with little to no upfront investment. But in some cases, the switch to daytime cleaning has resulted in problems.

When occupied space is being vacuumed during the day, many facilities adopt a technique called the "wave by," in which the occupants literally wave to the cleaning workers to inform them not to clean their space. In spaces where someone is in a meeting or on the phone, or a class is in session, it can make sense to skip a cleaning.

If enough "wave bys" take place, the facility can use fewer cleaning people because in effect, less space needs to be cleaned. For example, if a combined 10 percent of the building’s spaces are "waved by," cleanable square footage is reduced by a corresponding amount. Even if the space "waved by" or skipped varies from day to day, the reduction in cleanable square footage can be quantified, anticipated and managed.

Furthermore, the "wave by" reduces complaints from occupants because they have control over their spaces, and they decide whether their spaces are vacuumed or dusted. And because the occupants interact with the cleaning personnel, occupant satisfaction often goes up even when less cleaning is taking place.

But the challenge is that the space still needs to be cleaned (whether the individual occupant wants it or not). Thus, the accumulation of dust, dirt, mold spores, viruses and other contaminants in a "waved by" space exposes occupants to the buildup of contaminants. When this buildup is circulated via a common HVAC system throughout the building, other occupants are placed at risk.

The solution is not to abandon the idea of daytime cleaning. Rather, facility managers must ensure that appropriate levels of cleaning are taking place. And a "red flag" should go up when the conversion to daytime cleaning results in anything more than a small (if any) reduction in the number of cleaning personnel.

Furthermore, facility managers should discuss the conversion upfront with their cleaning personnel. Some advocates of daytime cleaning incorrectly assume that all cleaning personnel would prefer to work during the day, or even work full-time. But some cleaning personnel prefer working at night because of childcare needs or because their nightly custodial job is a second job; switching to daytime cleaning actually means that they will have to give up one of their jobs.

Thus, a switch to daytime cleaning is more complicated than often suggested. To lay a foundation for success, hold upfront discussions so that there are no surprises for the facility or the cleaning personnel.

And, if an education institution switches to daytime cleaning, administrators should adopt policies and strategies to make sure all spaces are being cleaned appropriately.

Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization. steveashkin@greencleaningnetwork.org

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