Overcoming Challenges on the New Frontier of Apartment Cleaning


A big challenge facing facilities maintenance teams at multifamily properties every day is reducing exposure to COVID-19 in the process of apartment cleaning, including not just the units themselves but also leasing offices, common areas and other areas of the property.

Cleaning and maintenance is no longer about just wiping down surfaces. Deeper and more frequent applications of multiple, powerful solutions are being used to limit the virus’ spread. The CDC prescribes a two-pronged approach of routinely cleaning with soap and water, then applying a properly mixed disinfectant to achieve safe levels of sanitization.

And the more frequently surfaces are touched, the more they should be treated.

Now a year into the pandemic, most multifamily facilities maintenance teams have made deeper cleansings routine. But experts say keeping things germ-free isn’t the only issue at play. There’s a safety issue for the teams to consider as well. These experts advise extreme care when handling disinfecting and sanitizing products, some of which can be harmful to health or damage surfaces if not used according to directions.

Clean first, disinfect next

At the recent virtual RealPage Maintenance Summit, industry professionals encouraged maintenance teams to be smart about using products that are effective in killing germs associated with the virus. They advise wearing masks, reading instructions, and getting proper training to safely use the many available solutions on the market.

“There’s a proper way to clean, disinfect and keep yourself and your residents safe, so continue to be diligent about that,” says Nate Gaubert, who manages research and new product development for Spartan Chemical Co. “Trust your resources, ask questions, seek out your training. When in doubt, read your label and trust it’s been vetted to do what it needs to do.”

Gaubert joined HD Supply’s Brian Collins, Gregory Kashmanian of Pro Multifamily and Home Depot Pro and Total Care National Director Jim Mannes at the Summit. Collins, who is a product training supervisor, says understanding the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing is an industry challenge.

A critical step in the process is first cleaning surfaces, which can be done with common household solutions. If the surface isn’t totally clean, the disinfectant won’t be as effective. Once clean, the surface or object should be treated with a properly mixed disinfectant or bleach solution in accordance with CDC recommendations. The amount of disinfectant applied dictates the level of sanitation.

“Before you even talk about disinfection or sanitization you’ve got to get in and clean the surface,” Collins says. “You can’t just walk into an apartment that just became vacant and spray disinfectant solution on top of Pepsi on the counter and expect it to go away. The first step the CDC recommends is to get in there is to clean that mess, then you can apply your disinfectant to achieve that level of sanitization you’re looking for.”

Reducing damage from apartment cleaning

He adds that despite an influx of new products on the market, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all cleaner, and properties should be aware that frequent use of chemicals – especially if they are misused – can damage surfaces.

With several months of recurrent cleanings under their belts, site teams are seeing discolorations and damage to plastic and other surfaces. The culprit often is residue from high-level disinfectants.

Apartment complexes are reporting damages such as cracked and worn plastic surfaces, yellowing of computer keys, light switches and plastic on appliances and even disfigured wallpaper caused by frequent cleaning and disinfecting.

“Unfortunately, as we move into 2021, we’re going to see a lot of damaged interior finish surfaces due to misapplication or misuse of the products,” Collins said.

The damage isn’t necessarily limited to treated areas, either. Guests and employees can spread residual disinfectant to other parts of the property as they move about. Gaubert recommends that treated surfaces be wiped down once the disinfectant has had adequate time to do its job.

“We’re encouraging people to not only clean the surfaces before applying the disinfectant or sanitizer but to come back after the contact time and mop it up so you can delay some of that surface degradation,” he says.

Follow chemical handling protocols

Since COVID-19’s onset, new cleaning and disinfecting solutions have entered the market to aid in apartment cleaning, but the supply chain has hiccupped because of increased demand. Collins says that HD Supply, which provides maintenance supplies for the apartment industry, sold a five-year supply of disinfectants in two months last year as businesses ramped up cleaning efforts.

He advises that if facilities maintenance teams try new or unfamiliar products, they should carefully read labels and check MSDS material safety data sheets before using them. Also, he says, don’t be afraid to lean on the expertise of suppliers to ensure that products are being applied or mixed properly.

Properties should maintain a 30-day inventory of solutions and personal protective equipment to ensure staffs are adequately protected.

“There’s a plethora of new products and new concepts, so make sure you are very familiar with these products before you use them,” Collins says. “Contact vendors – they can assist you. Get all your answers to questions before you start to use the products.”

 Watch the property maintenance video to learn more about current challenges and best practices.

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