When a patient undergoes cancer treatment it is a stressful time for the whole family, and many families will turn to a maid or cleaning service for assistance with house cleaning needs. How does a maid service meet the special needs of the cancer patient with a compromised immune system? For help with this question, I asked Brenda Schwery, owner of Maid to Please in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Founder of Aiding Angels, a local, 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing free, professional housecleaning to men, women, and children who are undergoing cancer treatment in the Lincoln, NE community.
When cleaning, you can make the most impact at the “method of spread” link of the chain of infection – using the “targeted hygiene” approach. Target hygiene means cleaning high touch areas, or “critical control touchpoints,” as mentioned in the previous blog post How Do You Clean for a Cancer Patient?
“Cleaning high touch areas are part of our regular cleaning procedure,” Brenda says. Cleaning of critical control touchpoints should be part of cleaning specification of work and part of training for cleaning technicians. To stop the spread of germs, every home should be cleaned this way. These touchpoints include:
- Light switches
- Faucet handles
- Cupboard knobs or handles
- TV remotes
- Toilet handles
- landline telephones
- Armrests (nonporous surfaces like plastic and less porous surfaces like leather)
- Refrigerator handles
- Microwave knobs and buttons
- Computer keyboards
If there is an area you are uncomfortable having a maid service clean, a computer keyboard, for example, it is a good idea to explain why and ask the maid service to suggest safe ways for you to clean it.
Health care workers are familiar with Standard Precautions, a set of infection control practices designed to prevent transmission of diseases that can be acquired by contact with blood, body fluids, open skin, and mucous membranes. These precautions are intended to protect both the patient and the caregiver. Cleaning technicians should take a lesson from Standard Precautions and wear gloves and even goggles when cleaning, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.
Cleaning technicians should…wear gloves and even goggles when cleaning, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.
Situationally, Brenda’s cleaning technicians wear surgical masks to protect the client with a suppressed immune system, Brenda reports, and they are happy to do it because they know it is helping the client. Her cleaning technicians are very conscious about their health status and will report when they have sniffles or a cold that may compromise a cancer client. A cleaning service can also offer to wear surgical masks for the benefit of the patient.
Another area for a maid service to stand out when cleaning for cancer patients is to use two different colored towels to avoid cross-contamination between the bathrooms and other areas of the house. Using high-quality microfiber towels shows a cleaning service understands the importance of removing soil and germs versus just moving them around on a surface. For example, designating orange microfiber towels to clean the bathrooms and blue microfiber towels to clean the rest of the house.
Reducing cleaning chemical use with proven low- or non-chemical ways to sanitize or disinfect is another way a cleaning company can show it understands the needs of cancer patients. Dry steam vapor, aqueous ozone or electrolysis cleaners are some examples of what’s available.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when cleaning and training:
- Always treat your hands as potentially contaminated and avoid touching your nose and eyes, even when wearing gloves.
- Be aware that you could spread or pick up an infection from hand contact surfaces around the home; another good reason to wear gloves when cleaning.
- If someone leaves a tissue lying around be aware that your hands will be contaminated after touching it – so wash them immediately when possible. If you are wearing gloves change them or wash your hands with your gloves on.
- Wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water after touching any suspect item. Rinse them under running water to remove any infected material. Make sure your hands are dry, as wet or moist hands are more likely to spread germs.
- Alternately, if a sink is not available, use alcohol “wet wipe” or a suitable waterless hand sanitizer to clean your hands (great to keep in your car to clean your hands between homes).
- Ensure that surfaces frequently touched by different people are regularly cleaned and disinfected, e.g. door and cupboard handle, toilet flush handles, faucet taps, telephones, computer keyboards, and TV remotes.
- Cleaning cloths and sponges can readily spread germs from one surface to another. Make sure clothes are disinfected immediately after using with a bleach disinfectant and thoroughly dried until next use. As an alternative, use a disposable paper towel to clean surfaces.
“Maid to Please cleaning technicians love cleaning for the cancer patients; it’s a meaningful way for them to contribute,” Brenda says of her employees. And that’s the highest compliment a cleaning service can pay a cancer patient.
- Berry, Michael A., PhD. Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health. Chapel Hill, NC: TRICOMM 21st Press, 1994. Print
- Kiser, David, et. al. The Professional House Cleaning Technician’s Manual. Charleston, SC: Institute for Service Excellence, 2011. Print
- Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
- “At Risk Groups in the Home – Caring for Family Members Who Are at Increased Risk of Infection.” IFH Home Hygiene and Health. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, 26 Jan. 2015 Web. 4 May 2018.
- “What is Home Hygiene? – Terms and Definitions, Use and Misuse.” IFH Home Hygiene and Health. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, 6 Jan. 2015 Web. 4 May 2018.
- “Colds, Flu and Other Respiratory Infections in the Home.” IFH Home Hygiene and Health. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, 6 Jan. 2015 Web. 4 May 2018.
- How Do You Clean for a Cancer Patient?
- What You Can Do Indoors to Reduce Outdoor Air Pollution
- How to Survive a Public Bathroom
- 5 Ways to Protect Your Family During Flu Season (infographic)
- Clean to Thwart the Flu!
- Nine Filters You Should Clean Regularly
- Air Travel: The Perfect Way to Spread Disease
- Cleaning Products Can Cause Harm to Your Health: What You Can Do
- Is Vinegar a Natural Disinfectant?
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