Air Cleaning 101: Understanding the Importance of Indoor Air Quality
By Annette Uda
Clean air. We step outside for a fresh breath of it to clear our heads and rejuvenate our spirits. But what have we just stepped out of and what are we stepping back into? If you care about a safe and successful business, but you’re not cleaning your indoor air, you are putting your clients, your business and your health at risk. The following are some air cleaning basics you need to know.
Why grooming environments are at increased risk for the spread of infectious diseases
You maintain an immaculate business, cleaning surfaces after every client, but the reality is most germs that can wreak havoc on your clients and your business are airborne—and they stay that way for long periods of time. Upper respiratory infections in animals such as dog flu, feline calicivirus and canine cough can spread in an instant. A cough here. A sneeze there. While some infectious germs (or pathogens) may fall to the surface, most remain in the air and infectious for long periods of time.
Grooming environments are also particularly susceptible to infectious diseases living in the air thanks to constant dander shedding from clipping and brushing. Further, thanks to bathing and high humidity levels, the environment is prime for fostering bacteria that can lead to a variety of infections, including upper respiratory.
How infectious diseases are spread through the air
Most of us “get” how disease can spread through contact with contaminated objects. We can see the slobber-covered bowl or toy. We can also see direct contact with infected dogs; touching noses, sniffing butts. We can clean the objects and avoid the other dogs, but what about what we can’t see? Canine cough and influenza, for example, are airborne diseases. That is, they are primarily spread through the air. When an infected animal coughs, sneezes, barks or even sheds dander—just once—he releases thousands of microscopic contaminants into the air.
While some of these contaminants are large and heavy enough to fall to the surface where they can be eliminated with surface cleaning, most are “aerosolized”. These virtually invisible bacteria and viruses can remain viable (alive and able to infect) in the air for up to two weeks, clinging to tiny dust particles, riding on air currents and traveling throughout the environment until inhaled by another host. Once ingested, these agents begin to wreak havoc within the upper respiratory tract.
How unhealthy air hurts you, your staff & your business
The potentially catastrophic impact to your business from an infectious airborne disease outbreak is obvious—temporary closure for cleaning and potentially long-term damage to your reputation. But what may be less obvious when it comes to the indoor air quality is the negative effect on the day–to–day performance by you and your staff.
Unhealthy air can cause high rates of absenteeism, thanks to the spread of colds or flu as well as impact even simple decision–making due to headaches. The lingering fragrance of towels washed in a scented laundry detergent, scented shampoos, grooming sprays and surface cleaners can all contribute to headache-inducing indoor air pollution. These air polluting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can also arise from fresh paint or new flooring, for example.
Why surface cleaning is not enough
Of course the spread of infectious bacteria and viruses can be limited by the usual method of wiping down surfaces and tools with spray disinfectant, but it’s easy to miss microscopic contaminants that may still linger on floors, grooming tables, countertops and any other surface that needs regular cleaning. Remember those microscopic contaminants clinging to dust particles and endlessly riding those air currents? And what about those VOCs polluting your air? Surface cleaning does matter and must be part of any cleaning protocol but, simply put, it’s not enough.
How to clean the air
How do you clean something that surrounds you that you can’t see? Think of cleaning the air somewhat like cooling the air. Very simply put, air conditioners work by cooling air as it goes through them. Hot air goes in, cold air comes out. You can clean the air by sanitizing it as it passes through something that will kill the bacteria and viruses and eliminate the VOCs. That something is ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI).
UVGI is often just called UV but it is not the same UV as the UV–A or UV–B we hear about more often that cause premature aging (UV–A) or skin cancer (UV–B), for example. This UV, rather, has been used for 100 years to disinfect, sanitize and control infection in hospitals and other highly sensitive environments where maintaining sanitary air circulation, as well as surface areas, are critical.
In a nutshell, this UV kills bacteria and viruses and, in the proper set up, can be used to reduce VOCs as well as foul smells. Portable, upper air and mobile UVGI products can target specific areas of your business. UVGI can also be integrated with your HVAC system to disinfect the air throughout your business.
However, while UV technology is ideal for optimized air cleaning, it must be the right UV. The truth is, you get what you pay for. “Over the counter” UV light is not strong enough and cannot achieve a high enough bacteria and virus kill rate that’s needed to be effective. Further, you must have the right amount of UV energy. Every building, every space and every mobile grooming unit has different, custom requirements. Be wary of UV “distributors” or “online shopping UV” and a one–size–fits–all sales mentality. Working with experts matters. Ask questions. Get the facts. Ask for their studies. The how and why of cleaning the air is backed by countless scientific studies and field research. Understanding the basics behind cleaning the air is an important first step.
Why cleaning is a multi-pronged approach
Have you ever seen a one-pronged grooming comb? Probably not, because it wouldn’t really work, right? A cleaning strategy that has only one prong—surface cleaning— is likewise ineffective. To effectively prevent the spread of infectious disease, protect the health of the pets in your care, your health, your staff’s health and the health of your business, you need more than just surface cleaning. Make sure one of those prongs in your cleaning strategy “comb” is cleaning the air.
Annette Uda is the founder of PetAirapy, LLC, the animal care industry’s leading manufacturer of UVGI surface and air sanitation equipment celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2018. Annette has a passion for animal health and educating animal care providers on reliable, non-toxic ways to create clean, healthy environments for your animal clients and your staff that are protected from airborne pathogens, infectious disease, and noxious VOCs. To learn more about her company, visit petairapy.com.