Essentially, it was luck that got me started in the professional cleaning industry. By this I mean that some janitorial accounts simply fell into my lap. In my early twenties, I met the manager of a shipping company that was looking for someone to clean its new offices…and hired me. While going to school, I had worked part time at a magazine publishing company. As the magazine grew, it moved into a fairly large office. Instead of continuing my part-time job there, I asked if I could clean the office in the evening. Management agreed, and I had two clients.
Finally, a new restaurant opened near the publishing company. In those days, many larger restaurants contracted out their cleaning needs. I mentioned that I cleaned the office building down the street, and the manager asked if I could clean the restaurant. Now I had three customers, hired someone to help me, and was making pretty good money.
But then the luck stopped. I wanted to grow the business further, but I really did not know how. Finally, I decided the best thing to do was simply walk into offices, schools, restaurants, and other businesses and say to the gatekeeper, otherwise known as the receptionist, “I’d like to give you an estimate for cleaning your office.” I persisted, calling on ten locations a day, and my cleaning business did grow, but it usually took about eight “no, not interested” comments from the receptionist before getting one “yes.”
If I was in the business today, I would still make cold calls—they can be an effective marketing strategy in our industry. But instead of saying, “I’d like to give you an estimate for cleaning your office,” I would say, “I’d like to evaluate the health of your facility.” While the gatekeeper has most likely heard just about every sales pitch imaginable, saying “no, we’re not interested in the health of our facility” might be a hard response to make.
Truth be told, I could not have said this three decades ago when I was in the business. There really was no quick, easy, and cost-effective way to determine the health of a facility. But today, as a result of ATP rapid monitoring systems and cleaning systems that are tested, independently evaluated, and scientifically proved to leave surfaces hygienically clean, not only could it be an effective marketing tactic—and I am aware many astute contractors are using it today—it could help make facilities cleaner and healthier to boot.1
The birth of ATP
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an energy-bearing molecule found in all living cells. It was discovered by scientists in Germany and the United States in 1929, so while it is new to the professional cleaning industry, its discovery dates back nearly a century. If ATP is detected on a surface, it means living or dead cells are present on the surface.
These can be all types of living cells, so if a receptionist and a building manager did allow an evaluation of their facility and we found high levels of ATP on surfaces, all we could say for sure is that high levels of ATP should be viewed as a red flag that germs and bacteria might be present. It is also viewed as an indication that the surface wasn’t properly cleaned (the proper removal of unwanted matter) because organic matter is still left behind. In other words, the tested surfaces might be sources of contamination.
We should also clarify that it can be hard to determine what “high levels of ATP” are and adding to the problem, each brand uses a different scale. However for our purposes here, we will use the following criteria developed by Hygiena, a major manufacturer of ATP rapid monitoring systems:
• If a surface has an ATP count 35 or below, it is considered effective cleaning
• A reading of 36 to 70 indicates “needs improvement”
• If the reading is 71 or higher, it is considered “ineffective cleaning.”2
How to use ATP monitoring
ATP systems are now available from several manufacturers. Many of them look like television remote controls. According to Matt Morrison, Communications Manager for Kaivac, which markets ATP rapid monitoring systems, to conduct a surface test, an applicator—reminiscent of a cotton swab—is rubbed against a surface. “The applicator is then placed into the ATP device, which, with some systems, provides a reading in fifteen seconds or less. This is why they refer to it as an ATP ‘rapid’ monitoring system.”
As to how to use it as part of your marketing program, Morrison says restroom cleaning services will frequently test restroom surfaces and fixtures before cleaning. With some ATP systems, the results are then automatically downloaded into a handheld computer or tablet. Morrison went onto say, “Cleaning professionals then test the same surfaces after cleaning. Very often the test results are dramatic, moving from ‘fail’ to a reading well below thirty-five, indicating very safe and healthy. This can really impress the customer because it confirms [that] ‘looks’ clean and ‘smells’ clean really has very little to do with ‘is’ clean.”
While the gatekeeper has most likely heard just about every sales pitch imaginable, saying “no, we’re not interested in the health of our facility” might be a hard response to make
The key to success, of course, is getting these dramatically reduced ATP readings. More thorough cleaning is one way to achieve these results, as is the use of sanitizers and disinfectants. However, actually removing contaminants, living or dead, is key. Disinfectants may kill germs and bacteria on a surface but there will still be ATP present. Because of this, leaving dead cells behind could be setting up an ‘unsafe’ situation.
However, and specifically for restroom cleaning services, it is well documented that the use of spray-and-vac systems, more commonly known as no-touch cleaning systems, can reduce ATP readings significantly and produce hygienically clean surfaces. Similar ATP testing has been performed for floor equipment such as scrubbers and autovac floor cleaning systems. Mops, whether string or microfiber, appear to be the least effective.
To reduce ATP readings and hygienically clean floors, it is best to use an automatic scrubber or an inexpensive autovac system. “Both the autovac and automatic floor scrubbing methods had significant (ninety-eight percent) reduction in the levels of ATP on vinyl composition tile flooring tested,” according to a report by the Clinical Laboratory and Nutritional Sciences Lab at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. “The mop method had minimal reduction in ATP at forty four percent.”
Reflecting on my early years in the professional cleaning industry, I see my entire marketing approach years ago focused on costs. In those days, far more than today, cleaning was viewed as a necessary expense, and the lowest bidder got the keys to the office. The astute facility manager’s job was to always find ways to cut costs.
Today, while costs are a concern, facility managers are much more aware of the correlation between health and proper cleaning and how it can prevent absenteeism, raise morale, and improve worker productivity. So my advice when marketing your services today is have your ATP rapid monitoring system handy, walk in that door, and present yourself as a hygienic cleaning health provider…because that really is the service you are offering your customers.
1 Hygienically clean surfaces are helpful to maintaining health and preventing the spread of disease; while a hygienically clean surface will likely also appear clean, a surface that appears clean may not be hygienically clean.
2 An accurate ATP reading may require more than one test. ATP readings that indicate a surface is hygienically clean or safe may not be so for a clean room or laboratory, which may have higher standards.