National Cleaning Week Spotlight: Cleaning and Indoor Air Quality

March 30, 2022

Dr. John McKeon is the CEO and founder of Allergy Standards Ltd (ASL), an international standards and certification body. He and his team members tell us what National Cleaning Week means to their organization and how cleaning professionals can contribute to healthier indoor environments.

Dr. John McKeon

Dr. John McKeon, Allergy Standards Ltd

Q: What does National Cleaning Week mean to ASL and its staff?

Here at ASL, we love cleaning! To improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and to reduce triggers of asthma and allergies, it is very important to have a cleaning strategy for indoor spaces. It is of course important to consider surfaces such as floors, tables, and shelves in their capacity to gather dust and pet dander. But it is just as important to consider the air that we breathe and to make sure that when people look at cleaning surfaces and contents they also consider what they can do to make their indoor air cleaner.

Q: What are some ways ASL plans to celebrate or promote National Cleaning Week?

We are always working to get the message out that a healthier indoor environment is better for everyone, and particularly those with asthma and allergies. Our asthma and allergy friendly certification program, which we run in collaboration with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, tests and certifies products that are used in cleaning the indoor environment. We certify products such as air cleaners, vacuum cleaners, surface cleaning sprays, and dusting wipes, to show that they reduce allergens. We also make sure that levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are very low in any cleaning products we certify. We are delighted to support National Cleaning Week in getting the message out there that cleaning your homes and indoor spaces is healthy and important.

Q: What are some issues that should be highlighted during National Cleaning Week, according to ASL?

1. Consider common indoor allergy triggers

Asthma and allergies have been increasing since the early 1980s and now more than 25 million Americans are affected by asthma and over 50 million by allergies every year and these figures are predicted to continue rising. The most common indoor allergy triggers are mold spores, dust mites, and pet dander. Allergens can build up indoors in the absence of an effective cleaning program.

Mold grows in damp environments, including on carpet and other building materials. Disturbing a mold source can send spores into the air, which can trigger allergies and other respiratory issues. Dust mites live in carpet and other textile furnishings where they feed mainly on human skin flakes. People can be allergic to dust mites and to their droppings, which can become airborne when disturbed. Cat and dog allergens are also commonly found indoors—these allergens are carried on people’s clothing from homes into other buildings, exposing non-pet owners to allergens. Cat allergens are very small and can remain airborne for hours at a time without any disturbance. 

2. Set up cleaning strategies to reduce indoor allergen levels

Regular cleaning is essential for the removal of dirt and allergens from surfaces in the indoor environment. Use a moist cloth to remove dust and allergens from hard surfaces. Establish a regular vacuuming routine to reduce the level of allergens on the floor. Periodic wet vacuuming or steam cleaning of carpet is also recommended for the removal of allergens. Excessive use of water by carpet washers and steam cleaners should be avoided as leaving carpet fibers damp can promote mold growth and increase the rate at which dust mite eggs hatch. 

Remove mold-damaged materials and clean moldy materials that can’t be replaced. Wear protective clothing, gloves, and a mask when handling mold-damaged materials. Use disposable cloths or sponges when cleaning to avoid spreading mold spores to other areas of the building.

3. Don’t overlook IAQ

Creating a healthier indoor environment is key to the health outcomes of the building occupant. The main ways to achieve this are through cleaning the air and surfaces, and through proper ventilation. 

Ensuring adequate air exchange and filtration is important to maintain good IAQ, and to minimize the potential spread of airborne pathogens indoors. High-efficiency particulate arrest (HEPA) filters are a good choice for HVAC systems to ensure a high level of air filtration. A HEPA filter can remove 99.97% of particles that measure 0.03 micrometers in diameter, including pollen, mold spores, pet dander, dust mites and some bacteria. A portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter can also be used to reduce levels of allergens and particles in the air.

When using cleaning products, it’s important to open a window to ventilate during and after cleaning, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and avoid mixing different cleaning products as they may undergo a chemical reaction, which could release harmful pollutants into the air. 

4. Identify products that contribute to a healthier indoor environment

When looking for materials and products to help manage and improve indoor air and contribute to a healthy indoor environment it’s a good idea to look for certified products from trusted parties. Selecting products which have been labeled as independently tested and verified is a good way to ensure that what you’re buying will contribute positively to the indoor environment. A product that has the asthma & allergy friendly® certification mark has been scientifically tested against a strict set of criteria for its impact on the indoor environment.

Read Allergy Standards’ recent article Allergen Removal: A Critical Part of Carpet Care by Emer Duffy, Ph.D., in the March/April issue of CMM.

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