The New Meaning of Clean

cleaning cart with supplies

Meeting New Cleaning Requirements

With nearly a decade of experience in the cleaning industry under my belt – and 25 years of experience for Mulberry – I’ve had the pleasure to support many exciting campaigns that have elevated awareness and credibility for major industry players, smaller organizations keen on differentiating their brand and leading associations. Now, all eyes are on the cleaning industry in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Consumers and businesses alike are pivoting their approaches to cleaning to limit the spread of pathogens and the importance of cleaning is a frequent topic of conversation.

Never before has cleaning been such a worldwide discussion and concern. So what is the new meaning of clean? And what cleaning industry changes should we expect?

Cleaning for Appearance

Before the pandemic, cleanliness was mainly appearance-driven and the act of cleaning was a process that often took place behind the scenes to avoid disruptions. For example, the hospitality industry built its cleaning programs on this foundation of covert cleaning. Housekeeping teams meticulously maintained properties, but they typically carried out their duties silently and out of the view of guests. In retail settings, grocery stores and office buildings, cleaning typically took place in the evening hours or ahead of opening to limit interruptions. As long as a facility looked and smelled clean, people didn’t question the steps businesses took to achieve this feat.

But COVID-19 has flipped this idea on its head, and it’s safe to say that cleaning may never be taken for granted again.

Cleaning for Health

Now, customers, occupants and employees want cleaning to be visible to better understand whether organizations are dedicated to their health and safety. They want to know what products and processes businesses are implementing to clean, the effectiveness of those products, the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting and protocols for responding to a case of COVID-19 in the facility. Organizations that communicate their dedication to frequent, safe and thorough cleaning can enhance customer loyalty during this precarious time.

These heightened concerns have redefined what cleaning means. It’s no longer the process of quickly spraying a surface and wiping it with a rag, or mindlessly mopping a floor to remove muddy footprints. Cleaning is now an essential process that goes far beyond appearance and aims to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Cleaning must work at the microscopic level to truly remove harmful bacteria and inactivate viruses. It must be woven into the very fabric of an organization so that employees understand that cleanliness is part of the culture and is a continual, around-the-clock focus. And, above all, cleaning must have a thoughtful and strategic approach, considering product efficacy, dwell times, emergency procedures, employee safety and more. It cannot be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants process when lives are at stake.

Elevating the Role of Cleanliness

In response to the pandemic, some organizations are hiring or consulting with epidemiologists to better understand the close connection between cleaning and infection prevention. Others are showing their appreciation for and elevating the identity of frontline cleaning professionals who maintain facilities and are typically unsung heroes.

While it’s unfortunate that it took a crisis of this size and scope for most of the general public to truly understand and appreciate the role of infection prevention and cleaning professionals, it’s promising to witness the recognition that these individuals are receiving. The industry is working to change the way the world views cleaning – and bringing a face to the task of cleaning is a step in the right direction.

Another important consideration is safety. Cleaning is paramount to keeping both customers and employees of any facility safe. But the safety of those conducting cleaning should also be a major concern. Organizations should carefully review which products employees are using and the processes they are following to ensure that cleaning isn’t increasing risk. Proper education and training will not only make cleaning safer but will instill confidence in employees to conduct their jobs in the right way – thereby enhancing the safety of everyone who walks through a facility’s doors. Cleaning professionals who feel safe at work may be more likely to stay with the organization, helping to reduce turnover in an industry where doing so can be a differentiator.

Cleanliness at the Forefront

The novel coronavirus pandemic has led to an increased demand for cleaning and has thrust the industry into a bright spotlight. Thankfully, it’s responded in inspiring ways. From the launch of new consumer products that help homeowners tackle pathogens to the development of accreditation programs that give facilities and visitors greater peace of mind around cleaning, disinfection and infection prevention protocols, the focus on cleaning has never been greater. Another key step may be increasing wages for frontline cleaning staff to reflect their true societal value – during the pandemic, some laid-off cleaning professionals earned significantly more from unemployment insurance than they did at their former jobs.

The next time you see someone cleaning, while they may not be able to see a smile through your mask, they’ll certainly appreciate a quick thank you for their hard work. And remember – even after there is a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 – the work of cleaning professionals still continues.

Contact us to learn how we can support your cleaning business.


Jess Messenger is an Account Director at Mulberry Marketing Communications, an award-winning full-service B2B communications agency based in Chicago, London, and Australia. She enjoys developing PR campaign strategies and writing for B2B audiences across numerous verticals such as retail, foodservice and healthcare.