Managing the Unintended Consequences of Apartment Cleaning During COVID-19

Elevated levels of apartment cleaning are taking an expensive toll on various surfaces and fabrics in multifamily facilities, particularly due to cleaning agents either used incorrectly or not intended for constant use.


Apartment cleaning shifted into high gear with the onset of COVID-19, including deep cleansings of everything on the property. Surfaces, floors, appliances and just about everything else were scrubbed with potent disinfectants and sanitizers to prevent the spread of the virus.

More than a year later, however, the after-effects of frequent cleanings – some with harsh chemicals – are starting to show. Carpets are yellowing, doorknobs are changing colors and vinyl floors are pitting. Overuse and misapplication of disinfectants and sanitizers, some of which require personal protective equipment (PPE) to apply, are the likely suspects.

“This is a big topic,” Shaw Industries National Director Jim Mannes said during a recent cleaning podcast. “There are a lot of unintended consequences that we are seeing.”

Mannes said powerful products once reserved for annual deep cleanings have been used much more over the past year. Overuse, overspray and spreading by human feet are taking a toll on floors.

But other touch points are being affected inside apartments and common areas. Just about all interior finishes have in some way been exposed to chemicals used for disinfection and sanitization, despite precautions. 

“When you consider the interior-built environment, a lot of these products as we know get spread around,” Mannes said. “Human beings are very efficient transporters of soil and contamination. Where you typically see that problem present itself is anywhere where you transition from a hard to a soft surface.”

The soup on the floor

Mannes has seen first-hand a lot of damage at apartment communities resulting from chemical over- application during apartment cleaning. Shaw Industries, a residential and commercial flooring supplier, is working to understand exactly the effects of quaternary and phenolic compounds and oxidizers used in disinfectants and sanitizers.

Use and handling of such chemicals require following directions to ensure proper application and, in some cases, personal protective equipment. In the hands of inexperienced users, the compounds can cause surface damage, even health issues.

Contributing to problems is periodic unavailability of certain cleaners because of short supply and unfamiliarity of substitutes among users. As demand for products accelerated, properties scrambled for products, sometimes taking what was available. It wasn’t uncommon for apartment maintenance teams to use a variety of disinfectants and sanitizers, each with their its own learning curve.

With it came the potential for misapplication and damage.

Mannes explains that in many cases, professional cleaners and facilities managers had limited access to disinfectants. They were sometimes gone overnight. They might have used one for a month and switched to another the next month. Mannes calls it “the proverbial soup on the floor.”

Taking care in apartment cleaning

This soup is showing up on plank flooring, tile, grout, carpet, as well as doorknobs and other surfaces. Eventually, the damage will have to be remediated – if it’s not too far gone. And identifying the source of the problem can take a little investigating.

Multifamily operators should ask the right questions when issues are discovered, says Mannes. “Engage that maintenance team,” he says. “Ask them to tell you what they’ve used.”

Also, always used manufacturer-approved products from reputable, compliant vendors.

He added that rental properties should always be diligent and careful about how disinfectants and sanitizers are applied, and wear the proper PPE equipment when applicable. Failure to follow safety procedures can result in hefty fines: since COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued millions in citations.

With this issue, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Shaw Research and Development has looked closely at the effects of many popular disinfectants and sanitizers on their flooring products. Most of the traditional products have negative long-term effects on interior flooring finishes.

Shaw did launch ‘Shaw Pure’ Disinfectant, Fungicide and Deodorizer in 2020 to offer their clients a product to safely treat interior finishes. For  more info visit

“Let’s be careful in cases where we don’t know what we are getting into,” Mannes says. “We want to raise awareness that this is undiscovered territory; we’re inheriting all the good and bad behavior from the past year, and we want to keep the good and eliminate the bad.”

Proper education on using cleaning chemicals is important for the safety of residents and staff, as well as protecting assets. Work with trusted and credentialed multifamily vendors to help maintain your property.

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