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COVID-19 and its Impact on Our Industry: What You Should Know

As businesses, I think we are all concerned about how this is going to affect us. The fact is, we just don’t know. No one does.

What I do know is that J. Racenstein has been leading the industry for over 110 years, and we are still leading doing so today. That’s why we wanted to get this information out to you as quickly as possible.

Let me clarify that I am certainly not an expert on the COVID-19. However, the information included in this piece uses reliable sources. We have put together a few resources to help you better understand the situation as it pertains to cleaning, and some ideas to help you get through this scary time.

Disinfecting Is One of the Main Ways to Kill the Virus

When you look for ways to protect yourself from catching the Covid-19, washing your hands is probably THE top precaution we can take. The other one is to clean and disinfect surfaces regularly.

The EPA has released a list of effective disinfectants that you can find here, including sodium hypochlorite (i.e., bleach). The CDC recommends 1/3 cup of non-expired household bleach per gallon of water on non-porous surfaces.

This is a good time to pull out some definitions. There are legal differences in the terms cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. As the CDC explains:

  • Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

A surface should be cleaned before it can be disinfected. According to an article in CleanLink, “Cleaning can remove up to 90 percent of soils and pathogens in that soil from surfaces using tools like microfiber cloths, microfiber pads and water.”

According to the Australian government’s Department of Health, when it comes to using bleach on hard surfaces, “sufficient time is required to kill the virus, i.e., at least 10 minutes contact time.”

How long does COVID-19 last on different surfaces?

There is new study that came out on March 11 with some findings on this topic. However, it has not yet been peer reviewed and so its findings have not been confirmed. The study found that COVID-19 lasts on the following surfaces as follows:

  • In the air: Up to 3 hours
  • On Copper: Up to 4 hours
  • On Cardboard: Up to 24 hous
  • On Plastic and Stainless Steel: Up to 3 days

It’s also important to note that the longer the virus is out of a human host, the less contagious it becomes. The most contagious time is within the first couple of hours after an infected person sneezes.

Will the virus slow down as the temperatures rise? Researchers agree that it’s just too early to call. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that COVID-19 can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates. Also, they have that that cold weather or snow will not kill it.

COVID-19 and Exterior Surfaces

China has been hosing down exterior surfaces and the air itself with sodium hypochlorite, but it is not yet known how well it is actually working. A March 12 article in Science Magazine had this explanation:

“It’s unclear whether bleach destroys coronaviruses outside, and if it does kill them on surfaces, it’s unclear whether it would kill viruses in the air. Bleach itself breaks down under ultraviolet (UV) light.”

China’s National Health Commission is finding that the virus seems to be sensitive to ultraviolet light, so ultraviolet radiation is being used to break down the virus. This likely means that the virus does not last as long outdoors in the sun as it does indoors. In fact, China has begun using UV light rays to clean public transportation and other surfaces.

What Does This Mean for Our Industry?

I’m seeing a lot of cleaning companies starting to use COVID-19 in their marketing. While I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea, it definitely needs to be done cautiously.

  1. Shift your mindset. Many in the industry have traditionally sold cleaning services as a way to make property beautiful. However, cleaning — as defined by the CDC itself — is done for health and safety purposes (i.e., ” removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects”) as well as for aesthetic purposes. So your services can be cautiously marketed this way, but just don’t make false promises.
  2. Be careful with your wording. If you are claiming to “disinfect” the surface, you are saying that you are killing 100% of the germs. But are you really? There are some legal requirements to be able to use that term. Also, the list of disinfectants on the EPA’s approved list seem to focus on non-porous surfaces, not things like wood, concrete, and bricks. I personally would be cautious throwing the word “disinfect” around.
  3. Create a plan of action for your business. OSHA has put out a document entitled “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.” You can read the overview of the paper here. These are guidelines, not laws.
  4. Protect your employees. The above plan of action includes some steps you can take to protect your employees. However, this pertains to cleaning as well. The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves when cleaning, then throwing them away and washing hands immediately after. If reusable gloves are used, they need to be disinfected after each use.
  5. Think commercial and municipalities. Residential business may slow down (although it may not). However, commercial facilities — especially retails stores and healthcare facilities — are having to increase their cleaning efforts. One area I’m seeing growing among pressure washing businesses is shopping cart cleaning. Think about focusing on high-traffic areas.
  6. Don’t Stop Marketing. When all of this passes, you want to be the first one that customers call on. There are ways to market without creating fear, and that don’t have to cost a lot of money.
  7. Send an email to your customers letting them know you are taking steps to protect them and your employees at this time. Brainstorm for ways to do this, such as accepting credit cards or online payments only, having your team carry and use hand sanitizer, wearing gloves and booties (if going inside), discouraging handshakes, not allowing your staff to come to work if they or family members are sick, etc. There are ways to market your services without making false claims. A good example was recently put together by Amber Jones of KJ’s Window Cleaning, and can be downloaded for free here. After sending out this email, Amber landed several jobs right away.
  8. Become a resource. We’re creating a simple guide you can give your customers on how to clean their home according to the CDC that you can find here. (We will have a printable handout for you to use next week.) It gives you another reason to email your customers and keep you on the top of their mind.
  9. Consider donating services. Cleaning school playground equipment for free is a growing trend I’m seeing among industry members. (I’ve also seen some cleaners doing it for a fee.) The thought is to clean it then put out a sign saying “Playground cleaning provided as a community service by (your company name).” Or something along those lines.
  10. Order supplies now. If you know you have a big project coming on, it’s best to go ahead and get those items ordered now. Some items may take longer to receive due to restrictions or shortages.

Now for some good news.

On March 15, the news broke that China was lifting its travel bans, employees were returning to work, and life was beginning to return to normal. The spread of the virus has significantly slowed in China, and over 90% of the roadside health and quarantine stations they had set up have now been removed. This is a huge difference from where they were just a month ago.

We are in unprecedented territory, but we are all in it together, and we’ll get through it together. As always, we at J. Racenstein care about you and your success, and we are here to help.