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Cleaning Your Cleaning Tools: Oxymoron or Best Practice?

In the late 1990’s, a new trend in appliances hit the US. Front loading high efficiency washers entered the market, and their glossy, candy-like colors coupled with reduced water and energy consumption turned the humble washing machine into “trophy appliances.” However, the formerly delighted owners began reporting foul odors coming from their beautiful new washers. Complaints started hitting the customer service lines, technician visits went through the roof, and engineers scrambled to fix the issue. In the meantime, some washer owners even reported finding mold on their laundry after it had been washed. Obviously, there was a cleanliness problem with these sparkly new cleaning machines.

The root cause of the odor issues turned out to be a buildup of excess moisture in the rubber seals and gaskets in the door area of the washer. That extra moisture when paired with heat created an ideal environment for biofilm and mold to grow. Traditional top loading washing machines avoid this problem by their design, since the lid is usually distanced from prolonged water exposure.

These new, high efficiency front loading washers also introduced a new concept to many consumers: washing their washing machines. Most people assumed that a washing machine would be somewhat self-cleaning. It’s housing soap and water after all, two of the most commonly used tools for cleaning. The high efficiency front loader design, however, added a new element where biofilm could live, and therefore, added a new need for cleaning.

This concept of cleaning the tools used for cleaning, although new to washing machines, wasn’t that new. Many of the items we use regularly for cleaning purposes are laundered or replaced once they’re used. Think about your washcloths, toothbrushes, q-tips, etc. Most of us wouldn’t wipe our faces with a napkin that someone else had just used – we’d want a fresh one.  Most people rinse their toothbrushes after using because we don’t want to use one with visible debris the next time we brush. There’s a connection between the cleanliness of our tools and the outcome of the cleaning process.

Mops are a cleaning tool that many users may assume stay clean because they’re in constant contact with cleaning chemicals. Modern flat mops that use microfiber pads instead of traditional cotton strings revolutionized floor cleaning by increasing the amount of debris that a mop could hold. The construction of microfiber helps mop pads pick up and hold onto smaller bits of refuse that would usually get pushed around by old-fashion string mops.

Microfiber’s ability to hold onto debris makes it an excellent textile for mops, especially for single-use mop pads. Throwing away a used mop pad instead of attempting to wash it back to its original pristine condition is more efficient and results in more consistent outcomes. That same great hold-and-keep feature of microfiber works against it when it’s washed. Microfiber doesn’t automatically release all the trapped dirt, hair, and bacteria it has collected when it is in the washing machine; the efficacy and cleanliness of a laundered mop pad is reduced each time it’s reused and rewashed.      

When it comes to keeping the mop hardware clean, there are several different ways cleaning professionals handle this. String mop users often keep their mops standing in buckets of bleach or disinfectant until it’s time to use them. That’s definitely a quick and simple way to ensure the mop hardware has been in contact with a disinfecting chemical, although we know that the strings may still contain detritus and could contaminate the hardware. Most flat mops use a hook and loop system for attaching the microfiber mop pad to the frame or backer plate. Because the dirty mop pad is removed from the frame after use, the hardware stays cleaner longer. Most of the debris stays with the mop pad which either gets washed or thrown away.

After a certain amount of time and use, however, flat mop backer plates will collect a certain amount of fiber, trash, etc. in their hooks and will need to be either cleaned or replaced. Most metal frames come with instructions on how to purchase and install replacement hook and loop strips. Although this might seem tedious or unnecessary to some users, it’s an important part of maintenance and can affect overall cleaning performance. Another more convenient option is to use semi-disposable backer plates, like the ZeroGravity™ Mop from Contec Professional. Once it gets too dirty for optimum results, the used ZeroGravity frame can be tossed in a recycling bin since it 100% recyclable and replaced with a new one. The convenience of this type of backer plate, when paired with the consistency of single-use microfiber pads, makes mopping outcomes more reliable and increases compliance.       

High efficiency washers continue to evolve as do mops and other cleaning technology. There are wipes and tablets on the market specifically for removing the biofilm from washing machine components. Mop manufacturers are continuously researching improved methods and tools for better floor cleaning. The next time you brush your teeth, do a load of laundry, or swab the deck, consider the cleanliness of your cleaning tools and whether it’s time to clean or replace them.

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