To keep Covid-19 at bay, Americans turn to cleaning services

The coronavirus has changed what it means to clean.

In 2019 BC (pre-coronavirus), homeowners or their housekeepers could essentially scrub, wipe, dust, and vacuum to get to a clean house.

But now, many homeowners are hiring companies with specialized tools and chemicals to disinfect their homes to protect themselves and their families from the deadly infection.

“Our requests for disinfection services have more than doubled since the pandemic,” says Pete Duncanson, director of business operations for ServiceMaster Restore, the best-known brand for cleaning homes and businesses after disasters, like floods and fires. .

heavy artillery

The Memphis-based company, which also includes cleaning service Merry Maids, has about 3,000 franchises across the United States that can send technicians to clean and disinfect homes. Before disinfecting, ServiceMaster technicians focus on cleaning basics to remove everyday dirt and dust. “The biggest mistake people make is they think they can spray a magic bullet. But if they don’t clean the floor, the disinfection won’t work,” says Mr Duncanson.

Glossary of germs

A member of the Clorox Clinical and Scientific Affairs team explains the differences in cleaning.

To do the housework: Removing dirt, oil or any other dirt from an object. This is the first step before sanitizing or disinfecting.

Disinfect: Use products with labels indicating the ability to kill bacteria on hard surfaces.

Disinfect Use products approved by the EPA to kill bacteria and viruses, such as the coronavirus, on hard surfaces.

After cleaning, the technician typically uses a high-volume sprayer to disperse a mist of disinfectant throughout the house which is left to air dry. In some cases, the technician will use an electrostatic sprayer, which delivers an electrical charge to the disinfectant to help tiny droplets adhere to surfaces.

Servpro Industries, another disaster remediation company, has also seen an increase in calls from homeowners seeking sanitization services, says John Sooker, chief operating officer of the Gallatin, Tennessee, company, which has about 1,750 franchises in the United States.

Mr Sooker says people call because they met someone at work who was infected, then they quarantine themselves in an area of ​​their house and have the house disinfected.

Turn to the pros

Here are some of the things companies offer that go beyond routine cleaning.

Industrial Grade Cleaning Agents: The chemicals are generally stronger, with higher concentrations than what is typically found at home.

Specialized equipment: Disinfectants are dispersed via foggers, high volume sprayers or electrostatic sprayers.

Wider scope: In addition to high-touch surfaces (door handles, light switches, and flush handles), professionals can disinfect items such as laundry baskets, electronics, and gym equipment. Some technicians may also steam clean carpets and upholstered surfaces, clean air conditioning/heating ducts, and dispose of medical waste.

Servpro technicians do not clean the house before disinfecting it – owners must take care of this before the scheduled visit. Upon arrival, technicians use a fogger or sprayer to disperse the disinfectant throughout the house. The chemical is allowed to remain on the surfaces for the time recommended by the product before being wiped off. Technicians are also deploying air scrubbers, which have filters that remove particles from the air.

With more people staying at home, certain personal spaces and items are increasingly being used, Sooker notes. He advises homeowners to disinfect neglected areas like the workshop, sewing room and garage, as well as items like gym equipment and electronics.

Cleaning company BioPure, with eight locations in the United States, encourages customers to sign up for regular sanitizer applications, much like a homeowner would for pest control. During weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly visits, BioPure technicians use electrostatic sprayers to disperse its disinfectant. The chemical dries quickly after application, eliminating the need for wiping off after spraying. “We put a molecular coating all over your home, like a powder coating,” says founder Brandon Kinder.

Prices for these services vary greatly depending on the location of the home, its size, and the level of cleaning services requested. ServiceMaster base prices range from approximately 35 cents per square foot to $1.50 per square foot.

In a home that has had a confirmed case of Covid-19, costs may be higher for intensive cleaning and disinfection. Servpro averages about 40 to 50 cents per square foot in New York for preventative treatment, up to $1.25 per square foot for specialized treatment in a home with a confirmed case of Covid-19. With BioPure, many homes can be sanitized for $100 or less. Owners of larger homes typically pay 2 to 5 cents per square foot for services.

Efficiency Review

Can these services actually rid your home of the virus?

Because Covid-19 is so new, there has been no academic research on the effectiveness of disinfectant sprayers and foggers in killing the coronavirus, says Lee-Ann Jaykus, a professor at Carolina State University du Nord, specialized in food microbiology and virology.

Professor Jaykus was the co-author of a 2017 study which examined the effectiveness of a disinfectant fogger in killing two common viruses, but unrelated to the virus that causes Covid-19. The research, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, found that fogging with disinfectants containing chlorine dioxide and hydrogen peroxide – chemicals commonly used in commercial applications – was able to inactivate the viruses studied and reach hard-to-reach places.

That said, Professor Jaykus was reluctant to recommend their use in a residential setting.

“One of the issues is that the chemicals you use when you mist aren’t benign,” she says. “In either case, you have to leave the premises for a while, about an hour or a little more.” Some of the chemicals can also be corrosive and frequent use can damage stainless steel or bleached fabrics. Overall, the use of sprayers and these chemicals in homes needs further study, she concludes.

Some homeowners prefer to take the DIY approach to sanitizing. But a recent survey found that many do so inappropriately. In mid-March, 1,005 American adults were asked about the use of disinfectants in a survey commissioned by the American Cleaning Institute, a Washington-based trade group that represents manufacturers of cleaning products. Only 58% cleaned properly, either by keeping the surface wet with disinfectant wipes for as long as recommended on the label or by spraying on disinfectant and letting it air dry, according to the institute.

As many companies around the world struggle, a Canadian disinfectant company is ramping up production to meet demand during the novel coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Ron Kolumbus/WSJ

Ms. DeCarbo writes the Wall Street Journal’s Counting House column. She can be reached at [email protected]

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