With flu season upon us, the global threat of Ebola infection, and the various other viral and bacterial germs ready to attack, the University of New Mexico custodial services staff not only cleans to make the campus sparkle, but also, for the health of the campus community.

There are approximately 150 custodians employed on UNM’s main and north campuses that clean more than 700 classrooms daily, usually in the morning.  Bathrooms, such as the ones located in high-traffic buildings like at Dane Smith Hall, get cleaned both in the morning and the afternoon.

“Knowing the `hot spots’ on campus can help keep us healthy, and our division focuses on these areas several times a day,” said Victor Tovar, manager of the Physical Plant Department (PPD) custodial services. These hot spots include places where a large amount of germs linger: light switches, door knobs, desktops and arm rests for example.

Washing hands thoroughly and frequently is the number one way to keep yourself protected from the viruses and bacteria left behind by the thousands of people who touch the campus daily.  According to a 2013 study conducted by Michigan State University, 95 percent of people do not properly wash their hands after using the bathroom. This means that germs are not effectively removed from hands and are constantly being left behind on classroom desks, door handles, hand-held devices, light switches, elevator buttons and telephones.

Using international industry standards, PPD custodial services cleans bathrooms at the highest standard.  All high-traffic bathrooms are disinfected twice a day using a hospital-grade disinfectant. 

“Disinfectants have a dwell time, meaning they need to sit on an area for several minutes before being wiped to be effective,” Tovar said.  "Hospital-grade disinfectants continue to kill germs for four to six hours after it has been cleaned. The length of a disinfectant’s `kill-time’ depends on how much a space is used, this is why we clean high-traffic areas more than once a day." According to Tovar,  the “kill-time” is longer at home, about one to two days, because homes are used a lot less than a university campus.     

Members of UNM's custodial services receive instructions.

In addition to using effective disinfectants, custodians use microfiber cloths to clean. Microfiber helps remove the protective biofilm that enables microbes to flourish. These cloths more effectively “grab” microbes off of a surface and into the cloth as opposed to a paper towel. Additionally, cloths and cleaners are color-coded so that there is no cross-contamination during the cleaning process. 

“If you wipe a surface with a cloth or mop in a bathroom, these same cloths or mop heads are not used in another space until they are laundered and ready for re-use,” said Gary Smith, associate director, PPD's environmental services.

When H1N1 hit in 2009, UNM was already prepared for the pandemic. Now, with the Ebola virus claiming thousands of lives in West Africa, UNM is prepared if the virus makes its way to the campus. From a cleanliness standpoint, PPD custodial services has at least a six-week supply of hand sanitizer, disinfectant hand soap, disinfectant wipes, and cleaning supplies at the ready should they be needed. 

Tovar says that he takes his role at UNM very seriously, and understands that ultimately, the campus community is entrusting him and his staff to keep them safe from pathogens, especially in the case of a pandemic.