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The Professional Cleaner's Secret to Stopping Cross-Contamination

The Professional Cleaner's Secret to Stopping Cross-Contamination

Updated 2024

So unless you've lived under a rock for the past four years, you’ve probably already figured out that uncontrolled germs are a big deal. The pandemic gave the entire planet an unrequested crash course in germ theory, leaving most of us with absolutely zero desire to want to talk about germs ever again.

Unfortunately, just because we're sick of germs doesn't mean they're sick of us!

Even basic germs like the flu, E coli, and salmonella have been making millions of people miserable annually for a millennium with no end in sight. While not as deadly as COVID, these germs are nothing to sneeze at and can do plenty of damage in their own right, especially for the young, elderly, and immunocompromised. Like it or not, staying on top of the best ways to stop the spread of germs will never stop being important, especially if you're a professional cleaner!

In particular, the art of color coding supplies to reduce the risk of cross-nomination has been a literal lifesaver embraced by the healthcare industry for over 30 years. Yet despite the decades of data proving its success, there's a surprising reluctance to adopt color coding across the rest of the cleaning world, even after the horrors of the Pandemic.

While it would be easy to throw in the towel and just accept that cleaners outside of hospitals just aren't willing to put in the extra work to keep the people safer, we at Microfiber Wholesale see it differently. Rather than fall into the false narrative of blaming the cleaners, we believe that most cleaners are incredibly caring and hard-working, but need an expert to help them remove the barriers that are holding them back from providing the safest service possible. In that spirit, we’re going to explain why cross contamination is critical and how to make embracing it simple and fun.

The Logic Behind Color Coding

As you probably already guessed, color coding is basically a system of assigning different color microfiber towels and mop heads to specific cleaning tasks and areas, so cleaners can be sure that towels used in high-risk germ-filled areas are never accidentally used in places where food is prepared.

In plain English, this means that we do things like make toilet towels red, so you don't accidentally smear toilet germs on the kitchen counters!

So you might be wondering, why do we need to color code to know not to do that? Can't cleaners just switch microfiber towels regularly and use common sense? Well, we need color coding because of mental load... and insurance!

While technically, cleaners are absolutely able to control cross-contamination in a property without color coding, it requires a significant amount of mental concentration and emotional energy. When cleaners are using only one color of towels, they have to rely solely on their own memory to determine if they are switching supplies frequently enough and remember where previously a specific towel has been used.

It doesn't sound too hard on paper, but when you're exhausted in a rush, mistakes inevitably happen, sometimes with deadly results.

By using color coding, we're building a visual alert system to warn cleaners if they've forgotten to switch towels! Once a cleaner has become used to using specific colors for specific tasks, it becomes a subconscious automatic decision, as human brains are excellent at identifying when colors are "wrong" (so long as the colors are very different shades).

That uncomfortable uncanny valley feeling quickly alerts cleaners to towel-swapping mistakes that normally would take minutes or even hours to detect. This frees up mental load, which cleaners can use to improve their work, as well as just enjoy their day more and feel less stressed.

Color coding isn't just pretty; it's easy to remember, follow, and train, and it sends out a clear message to clients that you're serious about keeping them safe.

If it's so easy and effective, though, it begs the question, why has it taken so long to catch on? Well, color coding isn't catchy because it lacks dopamine!

When developing a new habit, dopamine is the happiness hormone that rewards the brain for doing the work correctly and makes people want to do the task again until the habit is formed. When we do something pleasurable, our brains release dopamine automatically, making enjoyable tasks much easier to remember and do consistently.

That rush of pride and excitement you feel surveying a freshly cleaned floor you just transformed…that’s the dopamine that will motivate you to mop it again later! Mundane tasks with no dopamine reward are notoriously difficult to do in enough frequency long enough to build a subconscious habit.  

This is why even Fitness Fanatics struggle to get themselves to drink enough water every day when they don't like the taste, even if they know it's good for them.

So if you want to get yourself or your employees to embrace color coding successfully, you're going to have to gamify the system to build in your own dopamine rewards. Establishing some sort of simple contest with even modest prizes can be all it takes to turn color coding from annoying to exciting!

Throw in a sprinkle of competition by doing things like splitting your staff into teams and allowing them to dock points for one another when they're caught red-handed with the wrong rag. This will inject a massive boost of adrenaline, making color-coding correctly brag-worthy and fun! Most people take an average of 66 days to form a habit, so a two-month contest can easily turn your organization into germ-fighting aficionados.

Why Choose Microfiber?

If you’re still cleaning with cotton, switching to color coding is a great time to upgrade your cleaning game to microfiber. Microfiber is superior to cotton in every way:

    • Microfibers are literally 1000x smaller than cotton fibers, creating so many more spaces and pockets to trap dirt.

    • The fibers of microfiber are also shredded to create friction and electrostatic charge, so they attract dirt and lock it in the fabric so it can’t slip back out, even when wet.

    • Cotton only picks up 67% of dirt, dropping an embarrassing 33% back on surfaces as you work. Microfiber traps 99.54% of dirt and germs, with almost no re-deposit!

    • Cotton fibers decompose faster than microfiber and are more sensitive to chemical damage, so they last hundreds of fewer washes, costing way more money long term!

    • Microfiber fibers are more durable and longer, so they leave behind far less lint. The fibers also pickup and trap soap residue, for a truly lint-free, streak-free shine!

Selecting the Correct Colors for Your Microfiber

Color coding typically ties together areas and tasks. For example, you might assign green towels to kitchens because it reminds everyone of leafy vegetables. Taking inspiration from the Color Coding OGs, the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSC) developed the first universal color coding Colour Chart in the 1990s, let's look at their example color code:

    • Red for Risky Restrooms: Use red-coded tools for toilets, urinals, and restroom floors.

    • Yellow for Mellow Restroom Surfaces: Sinks, towel dispensers, vanities, hand dryers, soap dispensers, door handles, walls, etc.

    • Green for Greasy Kitchens: Use green in non-preparatory food areas such as lunchrooms.

    • Blue for Boring Low-Risk Areas: Use blue for common areas, offices, classrooms, living rooms, and so on.

Remember, the secret to a successful color-coding system isn't about the colors themselves, though, it's about consistency and training. You might want different colors or more colors depending on your company's needs and procedures.

Unless you're working in healthcare at a facility with a long-standing color code system, there's really no harm in selecting colors that appeal to your team’s taste or even color coordinate with your company logo! For example, our MW Pro Multi-Surface Microfiber Towel comes in a rainbow of 10 colors, allowing you plenty of options to make fighting germs beautiful and fun! If you want to color code your floor care program as well, we have mop heads with four color choices to make that easy as well.

Laundry & Storage of Towels

Using microfiber to combat cross-contamination isn't just about color coding. It's also about how you handle, transport, and store them. Here are some tricks to making sure your laundry and storage practices aren’t undoing all your color-coding hard work.

First and foremost, be sure to wash all your microfiber according to Industry best practices. If you want to make sure that your microfiber is as sanitary as it is clean, follow the careful microfiber laundry care instructions where we have provided on how to dry and sanitize your towels without damaging the fibers.

Clean products need a clean home. Store your clean towels and mop pads in plastic bags or tubs to keep them germ-free until it's time to use them. Designate a special place for your soiled microfiber and regularly sanitize these areas.

Even just different-colored trash barrels on dollies can be used to transport and designate dirty and clean towels as they are moved through the washer and dryer cycle. Just be sure to label them as to whether they are clean or dirty barrels and line them with contractor trash bags so they never accidentally get swapped and are easy to clean.

If your employees clean on remote job sites, like house cleaners, it’s important to give them separate bags to store their clean and dirty microfiber, as well as separate sets of microfiber per property. Cross-contaminating between properties can be even more dangerous than cross-contamination between rooms, so separated supplies are an absolute must.

Managing cross-contamination also means keeping the rest of your supplies sanitary. Wiping down cleaning caddies and janitor’s carts is part and parcel of a commitment to giving customers the lowest risk, highest quality cleaning possible. It is also just a dumb way to undo everything you just accomplished, as a dirty caddy and bottles covered in toilet germs can easily infect your gloved hands and fresh new towels, and you swap colors and rooms.

When Color Coding Isn't Enough

While color coding microfiber is an incredibly powerful system, it does have its limitations. Even with proper laundering, some things are just so dangerous or damaging to clean up that it's not possible or advisable to try to wash the microfiber clean after it’s been used to remove them.

Some examples might be applying disinfectant in hospital rooms with active MRSA infection, cleaning up chemical spills, and applying floor finish.   in these situations, disposable products like our MWipes™ Reusable Microfiber Cleaning Wipes and 18" MWipes® Semi-Disposable Mop Pad make it affordable to use high-quality microfiber to complete a task thoroughly and still dispose of it when it's done.

Your Future's So Bright, You'll Need To Wear Shades

It's time to jump on the color-coding bandwagon and embrace the rainbow. Add some fresh, colorful MW Pro Multi-Surface Microfiber Towel to your cart before you lose your motivation. Train your team, and don’t forget to gamify it and make it fun till it becomes second nature. Make it clear to your team that this isn't just an aesthetic choice but a critical step in stopping them from accidentally dragging germs from one area to another and getting their favorite client sick.

With color coding, you're not just cleaning; you're taking a stand and putting in the extra work to be the first line of defense against germs for your customers and family, and that is a badge of honor you can wear with pride.

Best Microfiber For Color Coding

Our curated cleaning kit for professionals

We’ve curated a cleaning kit of our top products that our professional cleaning customers purchase over and over again. It contains three full days’ worth of high quality supplies for one cleaner, including four types of microfiber towels, microfiber dusters, scrubbers, heavy duty mops, and a laundry bag.

All this would usually cost you $500. Get it for $299.

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