risks and challenges associated with hospital acquired infections are well
known, and emerging as a high-profile, high-priority public health issue.
From the publication of the landmark study by the Institute of Medicine
(IOM), entitled, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Healthcare System", to
the CDC’s 2002 data estimating 90,000 deaths from bacterial infection per
year in U.S. hospitals, to the August 11, 2008 issue of The New Yorker,
reporting the mechanism of antimicrobial resistance, professionals have been
continually unraveling the complexities of ensuring that our healthcare
system offers truly safe and clean environments. And while drug-resistant
bacteria continue to evolve, or arrive from around the globe, the basics of
preventing cross-transmission remain constant.
Patient care challenges
One of the more challenging aspects of patient care is keeping important
areas of a healthcare facility clean. No mission is more important than
ensuring that a patient is not exposed to needless health dangers while in
the care of the facility. While preventable infection rates continue to be
high, there have been dramatic developments in cleaning technologies that
are proving to reduce and eliminate harmful bacteria from patient areas and
other high-touch surfaces.
Microfiber has emerged as one of the most important technological
developments for environmental services in this quest to prevent infections.
It is extremely important, however, to understand that there are many
different types and qualities of microfiber on the market with vastly
different capabilities for removing viruses, bacteria and spores from an
Microfiber, by definition, is any type of fiber with a diameter of less
than 10 micrometers. Every item labeled "microfiber" does not constitute a
superior cleaning product. Optimal bacterial, virus and spore removal is
achieved through a type of material called, "split microfiber." This fiber
is a blend of nylon (polyamide) and polyester that is extruded (like
spaghetti). In the manufacturing process, the bonds between these two
materials are chemically and mechanically split so that the fiber actually
splits, or explodes, creating a web of ultra-fine filaments and microscopic
pores. Split microfiber has a net positive charge and the ability to absorb
up to 8 times its weight in liquids.
In independent studies such as, "Using Microfiber Mops in Hospitals"
published by the EPA1 and "Disinfection, Sterilization and Antisepsis" by
Dr. William Rutala2, extremely fine (.37 micrometer diameter) microfiber was
both laboratory and clinically tested and proven to remove up to 98 percent
of bacteria and 93 percent of viruses from a surface using only water (no
chemicals). In comparison, traditional cotton fibers have been shown to only
remove 30 percent of the bacteria and 23 percent of the viruses from a
contaminated environmental surface.
When most environmental services professionals speak of microfiber, they
are usually referring to a flat mop floor cleaning system. These products
are highly visible, are one-quarter the weight of traditional mops, and
allow the housekeeper to effectively clean a room 40 percent faster than
they could with an old-fashioned string mop system. There is no doubt that
the use of these systems results in a much cleaner floor. And they permit a
one-pad-per-room practice, to minimize cross-transmission risk.
do get sick from surfaces
Microfiber cloths are sometimes overlooked as a major tool for infection
prevention in healthcare facilities. Consider the risk of hand and glove
contamination after contact with a VRE (+) patient environment; there are
many touch surfaces (monitors, cabinet drawers, sink spouts and patient
charts) in that patient’s room that can facilitate transmission. It is
essential that environmental services not only institute the use of
(data-supported) split microfiber cloths in their cleaning process for
proven cleaning efficacy, but also follow a clearly defined process to
properly clean surfaces in the room.
Using a color-code system for microfiber cloths enables a housekeeper to
use the appropriate cloth to clean each area of the room: yellow for
bathrooms, green for general purpose cleaning, red for beds and blue for
glass and other reflective surfaces. As part of that process, it should be
noted that only one set of cloths per room should be used to avoid
cross-transmission into a second room. Some facilities have started using
disposable disinfectant wipes in an effort to reduce infections. This
strategy may backfire as British researchers have found that, "disinfectant
wipes routinely used in hospitals may actually spread drug-resistant
bacteria rather than kill the dangerous infections."3
While most of the focus in preventing infections is on patient rooms,
effectively cleaning all areas of a facility provides opportunities for
safeguarding patients and caregivers. Waiting rooms and the emergency room
are high traffic areas where patients, visitors and employees can be exposed
to a wide range of infections; from the common rhinovirus to
life-threatening C. difficile. Following proper cleaning procedures in the
dietary areas of the facility can help reduce exposure to E. coli and
Microfiber equals cost-savings
Overall, the benefits of using green products such as premium microfiber,
can be summed up using "The Three P’s: People, Profit, and Planet."
1. People - Products that promote worker well-being, improved health and
ease-of-use are a benefit to all people—staff, patients and visitors.
2. Profit - By using environmentally beneficial products such as
microfiber, those within the healthcare industry can save time and money in
a variety of ways including: reducing the need for additional products and
chemicals, reducing worker compensation claims, offering the potential for
enhanced labor productivity and enabling savings on energy and water bills.
3. Planet - Products that require little or no chemicals help reduce the
release of pollutants into the environment. Products that require less water
and energy help to conserve natural resources.
All things considered
Microfiber cleaning systems, when supported by comprehensive training and
proper implementation, can play a major role in infection prevention
throughout healthcare facilities.
To realize the full benefits of microfiber, it is essential for
environmental services professionals to fully evaluate all of the product
and supplier options, insisting on the following:
• Independently tested microbiological data that validates superior
product performance claims
• A complete system that consists of everything needed to clean the
facility from carts to cloths
• A comprehensive training program to assist in both pre-sale education
and post-sale support.