As employees start to return to the workplace, they need to feel confident that their work environment will be safe. With hygiene a higher priority than ever before, cleanability of surface materials is coming under close scrutiny in workplaces across all sectors. Dave Ford, Specifications Manager with Altro, considers the pitfalls of some common materials and how simple, smart swaps can meet safety, aesthetic and comfort criteria.
In these rapidly changing times, employers are looking for guidance as they seek to ensure a safe environment for staff, customers and visitors. The British Council for Offices is one of the first to issue recommendations, saying “Materials and finishes should be selected to be easily cleaned; they should be hard, smooth and resistant to appropriate cleaning chemicals. Surfaces should be free from irregular features (nooks and crannies) that may harbour contamination.”
You may have carpet or carpet tiles installed, paint on the walls and tiles on the walls or floors – all of which can fall short against the British Council recommendations.
Carpet vs vinyl floors
Looking first at carpet, the issues here centre around cleanability. Carpet tiles or carpets are designed to be vacuumed and not cleaned daily with the detergent required to clean viruses – you cannot vacuum up bacteria and viruses. Having vacuumed, you would need to wet clean the carpet or carpet tiles with detergent daily at 56ºC in order to kill any virus.
This daily process is required because the virus remains active for 24 hours on this surface. Cleaning therefore becomes more costly in terms of time and money, while requiring a long time, possibly several hours, to dry; this means your surface can remain damp for hours each day after cleaning, providing the potential for yet more ideal conditions for the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses.
Detergents can easily stain carpet, whilst overwetting carpet tiles can cause them to curl, be prone to fast re-soiling, the growth of mildew and the occurrence of odours.
Steam cleaning is another option, but carpet tiles can take 12 to 24 hours to dry fully when steam cleaned and shouldn’t be walked on during that time.
Modern vinyl floors offer an ideal alternative to carpet and carpet tiles. There are many options now available with similar sound reduction properties to carpet tiles – 17 to 18dB, so there’s no need to compromise on in-room sound and transmission of noise. There is also the option to use an impact sound reduction underlay.
Comfort underfoot is also a key performance benefit of many vinyl floors, especially those which also offer sound reduction properties, so a switch from carpet to vinyl need not lead to a compromise on comfort.
And the biggest benefit of vinyl over carpet is on cleanability. High quality vinyl floors can be cleaned at up to 60ºC; viruses are killed at 56ºC (US National Library of Medicine). No different detergent or process is needed when you already have the ability to spray, steam or power clean the flooring.
Dirt sits on the surface of vinyl flooring rather than penetrating the pile of carpet. So vinyl floors are cleaned faster, with products less likely to cause damage to the floor and also dry faster for a speedy return to service.
With budgets under scrutiny too, you need to have confidence that what you invest in will maintain its appearance and performance for years to come. Quality vinyl flooring is a proven, robust solution, not affected by indentation from office furniture movement or rolling loads, and with guarantees of up to 20 years.
Paint and tiles vs wall cladding
The World Health Organisation has proved that the Covid 19 virus will live for 72 hours on hard surfaces such as walls, therefore necessitating regular detergent cleaning. However, only certain surfaces are suitable for cleaning in this way. PVC wall cladding can be cleaned with detergent, up to 60ºC. Many other surfaces are not robust enough to cope with such cleaning. For example, paint is only microns thick and is easily damaged. Plasterboard under paint tends to be weak and absorbent and easily dented or damaged, particularly below waist height where walls can be prone to knocks and scrapes. Damaged surfaces can harbour microorganisms more readily than undamaged, smooth surfaces.
Emulsion paint is not designed to be wet cleaned and can come away when cleaned with water – a process which is exacerbated when cleaned with the detergents required to keep the area hygienic. This results in patchiness, reducing the overall aesthetic appeal and requiring extra maintenance.
Tiles are another popular wall or floor finish, and although easier to clean than paint they too create hygiene headaches. Grout is often the weak spot for hygiene – it often becomes porous with age which means it will harbour microorganisms, providing breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. Grout is difficult to clean and can shrink and cause gaps between the tiles, again providing the perfect environment for microorganisms to multiply.
Cracked or shattered tiles also lead to ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, and as individual damaged tiles can be difficult to remove, the problem perpetuates.
Wall cladding systems remove many of these risks. Altro’s systems are 2.5mm thick, with colour throughout the thickness of the product. They are durable and robust, with life expectancy of up to 25 years and come in a wide range of colours and bespoke options.
Altro Whiterock hygienic wall cladding has a smooth, non-porous surface and comes in sheets to provide coverage from floor to ceiling with no grout required. It is easy to clean, with detergent, up to 60ºC. As a fully bonded and watertight system, there is nowhere for microorganisms or bacteria to hide.
Altro Fortis wall protection protects the wall and substrate from bumps and scrapes, again giving nowhere for microorganisms to hide and breed. For a total hygienic system, install vinyl flooring combined with wall cladding and doors.
We want to play our part in helping the country get through this difficult time. We have extensive experience working across all sectors providing specification and technical support, whatever the challenge. Please get in touch if you have any questions.
Because it’s vital to clean floors, walls and doors effectively, we’ve produced a range of cleaning guides to help you get it right first time. Visit www.altro.com to find out more.
Key questions to ask – are your surfaces up to the task?