Scientific Cleaning in the Built Environment

By Bobby Moddrell, Manager of Training and Compliance, Custodial Services, University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin is a big place, twelve million square feet to keep clean in a big variety of buildings. For the past decade, we’ve cleaned using a process called OS1, developed by ManageMen. Some call it scientific cleaning.

We standardize cleaning as a lean operation using a minimum of equipment and cleaning agents, done by cleaning teams. It includes strategically designed workloads for each team member, ergonomic equipment, environmentally friendly materials, and an emphasis on safety. That helps assure consistent cleaning across a big campus. But most of all, we want our cleaning personnel to think on the job, and we try to educate them to do that well.

Education and Training

Each new employee receives 112 hours of training and education before doing a lick of work. After that, each one gets 40 hours of refresher and upgrade per year. We not only want them to know how, we want them to understand why. If they understand why, they deliver quality we can’t write in a standard.

Most of our training and education is delivered in the evening, the work shift for most cleaners. Here’s a sample of subjects we cover:

Pathogenic Microorganisms: How bacteria multiply. Cross-contamination. Transfer media. Portals of entry. Where to apply germicides, and friction tools like micro-fiber that enhance germicidal effectiveness.

Particulates in air: Why we have deep concern for indoor air quality. History of early humans staying in one spot until accumulated waste forced them to move. Controlling particulates by dusting, then filtering dusty air with high efficiency upright vacuum cleaners. We use examples from clean air rooms filtering sub-micron particles as in semiconductor fabrication.

Basic measurements: For example, how to interpret a pH scale, and how pH relates to protecting people and surfaces.

Safety and Hazards: Normal safety hazards, workers’ compensation insurance, emergency procedures, bio-waste, Sharp’s containers, hazmat identification and disposal, etc.

Searching for Information: We explain agencies like FDA, EPA, and CDC and where to find information on their web sites. A favorite is a CDC site on anti-bacterial soaps with experimental results showing that 30 seconds of friction when washing your hands is as effective as an anti-bacterial soap.

And of course, we demonstrate the proper use of equipment and cleaning chemicals. At Texas, we use graduated buckets with Portion Pac pre-measured cleaning agents, which precludes overuse of chemicals. Regardless of language or background, every trainee quickly understands one pack for one bucket, bottle, or tank of water. We simplify both training and execution by using only three types of cleaning agent and one germicide for routine daily cleaning. The three cleaning agents are Green Seal approved, and the germicide is EPA approved.

Class work is given in Spanish as well as English, and for those who need it, we’ve even hired American Sign Language interpreters. Finally, in training and in ongoing work, we communicate expectations of cleanliness standards, and we follow up with area audits.

ManageMen is a third party that audits us annually to assure that we are following the process, and it’s a benchmarking opportunity. In addition, management audits each crew area twice a year in detail: a 512-point inspection that takes eight hours to complete. The audits do let us see how each crew is performing, but the detail opens opportunities to follow up with each crew with ongoing training in their area using their tools and giving attention to any special situations or problems they may have.

Benefits of the Program

The OS1 process is a sustainable approach to cleaning that improved our chemical program, water usage, paper and plastic products inventory, team cleaning system, and indoor air quality. Prior to OS1 we stocked over 200 different chemicals, which is fairly standard for most cleaning operations of this size. After OS1 we cut the number to 25 chemicals, almost an 88% reduction. Most of that reduction is due to using only Portion Pac’s environmentally responsible chemical concentrates in pre-measured packs.

We cut water usage by roughly 70%. The primary reason was switching to two-sided mop buckets and microfiber cloths. Traditional mop buckets hold five gallons of water. Our two-sided restroom and utility buckets hold 1.25 and 2 gallons of water respectively. Additionally, a two-sided mop bucket keeps clean solution and contaminated water separate. The cleaning solution lasts longer and cross contamination is reduced.

Microfiber flat mops also conserve water. Traditional string mops transfer more water than necessary to hard floor surfaces, making it harder to clean and absorb dirty water effectively. Moreover, the fibers of a traditional string mop don’t trap the microorganisms targeted in common cleaning procedures. Microfiber mops do. They absorb up to six times their own weight in liquid pick up and retention, and their unique fibers have been shown to reduce bacteria up to 96%. These changes brought our estimated water usage from 863,340 gallons annually to 262,302 gallons for a savings of 601,038 gallons of water each year. To save even more water, you could use a steam mop which also has the added bonus on not leaving a residue on the floor.

Across campus, we issue toilet paper and hand towels with high percentages of recycled fiber and post-consumer content. We switched to trash liners made from linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) that meet EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (post-consumer content ranging from 10%-100%). All our liners contain 100% post-consumer recycled resin. We reduced our annual liner waste to landfills by an estimated 36%, from 220,459 pounds of waste annually, down to 141,847 pounds.

Daily Work

OS1 team cleaning enhances worker safety by keeping employees together as a team of specialists working the buildings. This way, if an incident occurs, someone is present to assist. Additionally, traditional zone cleaning requires electricity on each floor of a building in order to power all necessary equipment and keep rooms well lit. With team cleaning, the team moves through the building floor by floor, so they need electricity only on the floor they are working at the time.

At the start of a shift, each team checks in at a team meeting. What happened on the previous shift? What special projects are on for that shift? Exact amounts of each chemical and other items are distributed into the inventory for each employee. Then it is warm up time. These are exercises specially developed by Custodial Service and the university’s Kinesiology Department. They are a team-building exercise as well as a physical warm up.

End of shift meetings count how many towels, mop heads, and chemical packs were used. Abnormal usage (deviation from standard work) is explained, and service requests are filled out. Most service requests are for maintenance. Custodial Service personnel are the only people that regularly see every floor of every building every workday. Part of their responsibility is to look for any kind of facility problem and report it for correction, from drippy faucets to bare electrical wires.

Why the Science is Important

Through the daily maintenance of campus buildings, Custodial Services is helping sustain the built environment at the University of Texas-Austin. We work to prolong the life of buildings and materials therein, and to improve the quality of life by all occupants inside these buildings by all occupants. The EPA estimates that most of us spend nearly 90% of our time indoors – at work, at home, or in transit – so it is increasingly important to maintain an indoor environment free of pollutants. Astro Pak knows this too well and have been helping the cleaning industry in many markets for years. For more information you should have a look into,

A recent study measured the indoor air quality of a building maintained with an average upright vacuum and found that the level of air pollution was roughly ten times the EPA limit of particulates emitted from automotive engines.i This is not surprising considering that cloth filter bags on traditional upright vacuums only remove 30% of pollutants from the air. To improve indoor air quality, Custodial Services selected Super Coach backpack vacuums manufactured by Pro Team, which has earned the Pro Team Vacuum, the Carpet Research Institute’s (CRI) green label certification. These vacuums provide four-level filtration, removing 99.9% of lung-damaging particles, and in addition they help protect carpet, extend carpet life, and thus reduce the need to replace it.ii

Custodial Services at the University of Texas-Austin is committed to further improvement of a health environment for everyone on our campus. Our immediate plans include revising the workload plans for all twelve million square feet we cover to permit fine-tuning our expectations and work crew routing strategies.

We are also committed to continually re-training all staff on the why behind every “what” that we perform, so that we adopt all new, confirmed learning about the built environment as soon as it comes out. A cleaning staff that understands the reasoning underlying their work is much more versatile. Training in how to do the work will get the job done when everything is routine. Understanding why creates a workforce that can more readily adjust to new assignments when special projects or disruptions take place, and they readily relate to the tenets of our organization and take to better ways of cleaning. Sometimes they devise better cleaning ideas themselves.

Our Underlying Values

Within Facilities Services, we emphasize five core values:

• Service

• Integrity

• Teamwork

• Excellence

• Stewardship

And our OS1 Philosophy of Cleaning has seven additional tenets:

• Clean for health first then appearance

• Treat cleaning workers as first class citizens

• Simplify, Simplify

• Utilize the clean syndrome

• Go beyond compliance on safety regulations

• Minimize environmental harm

• Exceed expectations

The why behind everything we do relates to one or more of these core values or philosophies of cleaning. Through ongoing reminders and training, these basic concepts reinforce employees in their efforts to prioritize what needs to be done.

Our training program is unique, but only one of a growing number of OS1 cleaning programs. However, our staff is very proud that many of our peers have visited us to attend our training or to participate in extensive benchmarking. Some of them are: The University of Michigan, Washington University, Texas A&M, Shawnee Mission Schools, Occidental College, USSI Florida, University of California Santa Cruz, Mt. San Antonio College, Austin Convention Center, and the Austin Public Library.


i The number is from Michael A. Berry, “The Science of Cleaning,” Prepared for (OS1) Users Symposium, 2006, p. 31. Berry found particulate counts of 2360 micrograms per cubic meter in a building cleaned with a standard upright vacuum cleaner. The EPA standard for engines is 150 mg/M for particles up to 10 microns diameter, and 65 mg/M for particles less than 2.5 microns diameter. Both standards are a 24-hour average. The smallest particles are known to cause the most lung damage because they deeply penetrate the lungs. This is an apples and peaches comparison, but Berry made his point that poorly filtered indoor air has many times more particulates than EPA permits from automotive engines. The EPA standards can be found at: The report on Michael Berry’s study is at:

ii John Walker, “Vacuum Specialist Playbook,” ManageMen, 2010

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