Children may be bundles of joy, but in groups, they can morph into tiny germ factories. That makes daycare cleaning a whole different beast that your usual cleaning job. Kids pick up germs, incubate illnesses, and pass them along to their young peers and adult caregivers alike. That's especially true for toddlers and very young children, some of whom contract up to ten colds in their first couple of years, according to Pediatrics and Child Health. But colds are just the beginning, and illnesses are more likely to spread in communal spaces like daycares. Many other illness, some of them quite serious, can be transmitted in this setting, making thorough daycare cleaning an important factor for everyone's safety.
Why do daycare kids get sick so often? Blame it on their immature immune systems, which are just leaning how to fight off infections. But don't stop there. Little kids are just figuring out good hygiene habits. This means they are less likely to cover their noses when they sneeze or wash their hands after using the restroom. They are also more prone to touch people and things after rubbing itchy eyes or runny noses.
Then there's the drool. Babies and toddlers explore and learn about the world with their whole body, especially their mouths. Microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba estimates that children under the age of two transfer germs from their hands into their mouths 81 times an hour. Two- to five-year-olds are just a little better, getting germs in their mouth 42 times an hour.
Sharing Is Caring
Colds, low-grade fevers, coughs, and other upper-respiratory infections are the most common illnesses passed around the playpen. Pink eye, or conjunctivitis; influenza; and hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) are also highly contagious and rather unpleasant. So, too, are diarrhea and gastroenteritis.
More serious is the risk of hepatitis A. Spread by poor handwashing habits in the bathroom or diaper changing area, hepatitis A causes swelling and irritation of the liver. Click here to read a harrowing tale of a cleaning professional laid low by the disease.
Hide and Seek
Put all of these factors together, and daycare cleaning becomes more complicated than other facility cleaning. Germs are simply everywhere, from the bathrooms and diaper changing areas to food prep stations, refrigerators, high chairs, and tables. Floors (both hard surface and carpet) need daily care. So does shelving, bins, and other storage areas. And don't forget the toys! A favorite plaything has undoubtedly been touched, thrown, stepped on, slept with, and gummed several times over throughout the day.
Play It Safe
With all that's at stake, it's no wonder that individual states highly regulate daycare cleaning. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers a cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting frequency table that outlines when and how to handle every surface found in the daycare setting. However, care must be taken when using chemical disinfectants and sanitizers around young children as they can potentially be hazardous, particularly if the products are in concentrated form.
One of the better options for everyone's health is cleaning with a no-touch system. Systems like these remove nearly all of the bacteria from dirty surfaces. Since these systems clean without the custodial staff having to touch dirty toilets, diaper areas, and door knobs, the janitorial staff stays safe as well. Click here to learn more about safe cleaning in one of the dirtiest areas of a daycare, the restroom.
Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.