Cleaning and disinfecting

Dear colleagues, 

CDC guidelines for reopening heavily rely on cleaning and disinfecting, both of which intersect with the creation of healthy and connected communities in which everyone can thrive, because:

  • They involve design elements frequently touched, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, counter tops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks, gas pump handles, and touch screens.
  • The burden disproportionately impacts:
    • Women – Before the pandemic, women were already shouldering much of the housework. Among those aged 25–34 in 2018, a time when many families are raising young children and some are also caring for aging parents, men spent 3.9 hours per day on housework compared with 8.0 hours for women, a gap of 51%. During lockdown, 70% of women say they are fully or mostly responsible for housework and 66% say so for child care, with greater time spent on cooking and housecleaning.
    • Janitorial staff – Underpaid, under-insured, and many lacking paid leave, janitors risk their lives through exposure to the virus. As essential workers, they work outside the home cleaning the toilets, kitchens and surfaces touched by dozens or hundreds of people a day in offices, stores, mass transit, and restaurants. People of color (Black, Latino, Asian American and other non-Whites) account for 43% of all essential workers in the US amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While Black Americans represent just over 13% of the population, Black essential workers encompass 15% and Hispanics or Latinos, which represent just over 18% of the population, make up 21% of the essential workforce.

Below, I reflect on issues we need to be considering with respect to cleaning and disinfecting as we continue to plan for reopening. For more examples, see Landscapes of Hope and the COVID-19 page.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Editor
[email protected]


Cleaning And Disinfecting Chemicals Used

When EPA-approved disinfectants for COVID-19 are not available, alternatives can be used such as mixing a 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water. This can cause fumes that may be very dangerous to breathe in and one must wear gloves and pay attention to the contact time – see EPA’s infographic on how to use these disinfectant products safely and effectively. Additional safety directions include: keep all disinfectants out of the reach of children and pets; read and follow the directions on the label; wear skin protection and consider eye protection for potential splash hazards; ensure adequate ventilation; use no more than the amount recommended on the label; and label diluted cleaning solutions. 

How can the cleaning process and its associated safety precautions be easier to follow and not add stress to people whose mental well-being might already be stretched?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Reduce Rate Of Injuries

For over six decades, family-owned Twin City Janitor has offered quality janitorial supplies to educational, industrial, business, manufacturing and healthcare facilities. Demonstrating the depth of stereotypes, a study where participants were asked the race of computerized faces, showed that business attire was associated with White faces, whereas faces with janitor attire were more likely to be seen as Black.Close to 68% of janitors are male and although most are White (74%), higher rates of Blacks and Hispanics are among janitorial staff.As designers, we need to pay attention to the incidence rate of injuries and illnesses to janitors and cleaners, which in local government increased in 2015, placing janitors at the top. Many of these accidents are caused by trips, slips, and falls or coming into contact with hazardous substances. In addition to livable wages, designers can advocate for green buildings that support social equity for janitorial work, partnering with organizations such as Dream Corps – Green for All.

What kind of design interventions can reduce injuries and ease the work of janitorial staff?

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni – Landscapes of Hope


Exploring Implications Of Processes And Decisions

Anna Tsantir co-founded Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service over 10 years ago, and in 2017 was awarded the Minnesota Women-Owned Small Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. As an advocate for sustainable and healthy cleaning solutions, the eco-friendly company uses only non-toxic products: no bleach, no ammonia, and no petroleum-based irritants. The 120 employees, many of whom are artists, activists, students, and single parents, benefit from fair labor practices and the company’s stand for social justice–starting wages are $15/hr and a 50% health insurance cost share. Using refill stations they can buy cleaning solutions in concentrate and dilute it on site, cutting down on plastic waste and on their carbon footprint. Each 55-gallon drum allows them to refill a bottle 20,000 times. The side of the building hosts the Wall of Hope mural, a partnership with Climate Generation and local artists for the many successes of climate activists. Tsantir recommends using Environmental Work Group to check household products.

How can the design of the built environment reduce the amount of cleaning needed and advocate for solutions that support social, economic, and environmental justice?

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni – Landscapes of Hope


Access To Adequate Sanitation

For billions of people around the world, cleaning and disinfecting are not even an option
an estimated 790 million people (11% of the world’s population) lack access to an improved water supply while an estimated 1.8 billion people (25% of the world’s population) lack access to adequate sanitation. See also Goal #6 of the UN Development Sustainable Goals. Without access to clean water, it is near impossible to follow even the most basic protective guidelines of washing hands with soap and water.

How can we leverage innovation and creativity in our teaching, research, and practice,
so everyone has access to water and sanitation?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni 


Design Increase Adaptability And Flexibility In Bathroom

Designers cannot assume that spaces will be used in the way imagined or known.
In The Right to Home, we see examples of bathrooms whose unconventional uses were not supported through design interventions, increasing the risk for contamination.

Naqo explains how many Somalis use the sink to wash prior to praying, a ritual called wudu. Water is essential to life and can cleanse and purify, a ritual that also unites believers and communities.
“First, you clean your hands three times. Then, you put water in your mouth and gargle, again for three times. Then, you wash your nostrils and your face, everything is repeated three times. After that, you wash your arms three times, from the nails to the elbow. You start with the right hand and then the left hand. Then, you take some water and wash your hair and ears, the inner ears. Finally, and that is when most houses get water all over, you put your feet in the sink, and wash from the nails to the ankle…..Again, wash the right foot first, then the left foot…..” (p.99).

Pao was preparing for a Hmong Shamanist celebration the day after our interview to bless the elders and his newborn. Around 200 people were expected and that meant the whole house would be overtaken by fellow Hmong community members who would join Pao’s family in honoring his ancestors. As the standard-size kitchen sink was too small for the size and multitude of the pots and pans used in celebrations, the bathtub doubled as a sink for washing cooking utensils too large for the kitchen sink (p.60). 

How can design increase adaptability and flexibility in space use?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni

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