Facilities cleaning profiteering on the rise

Proper cleaning and disinfecting has never been more important. Many property managers who have implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols in their buildings are shocked at the cost but assume – incorrectly – that it is the price that must be paid. Companies with a confirmed case of COVID-19 on the premises are even more vulnerable to price gouging. Courtesy Henry Desro, Unsplash

Thomas Holland
CEO, APEX Surface Care

Profiteers are likely to emerge during any disaster. The pandemic is no different, as property managers looking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep their buildings safe and healthy are discovering. Some commercial cleaning or restoration companies are charging four, five or even six times more than they should for disinfection services because they know people will pay it.

Proper cleaning and disinfecting has never been more important. While in the past many service providers cleaned more for appearance than for health, today infection control is the top priority. The good news is SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is an enveloped virus, making it one of the easiest viruses to kill. Many property managers who have implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols in their buildings are shocked at the cost but assume – incorrectly – that it is the price that must be paid.

Companies with a confirmed case of COVID-19 on the premises are even more vulnerable to price gouging. Suddenly, basic disinfecting becomes “viral mitigation” or “biohazard remediation services,” and the price tag increases exponentially. The same provider is using the same equipment and the same product but at nowhere near the same price. Property managers, desperate to get someone in as quickly as possible to mitigate the situation, often feel they have no choice and agree to the inflated cost.

Here are three things property managers should keep in mind when researching service providers and reviewing bids for disinfection services during the pandemic.

First, disinfecting is not the same as cleaning. Just because a cleaning company has been in business for years or even decades doesn’t mean its technicians know how to disinfect. In fact, many companies currently advertising their disinfection expertise actually have little to no experience with proper disinfecting procedures. They may not have ever disinfected a building before the pandemic hit in March. Technicians should be trained and certified in infection prevention and control practices through the Academy of Cleaning Excellence, the Global Biorisk Advisory Council or a similar organization.

It’s important to remember that a surface must be cleaned before it can be disinfected. While disinfectants are powerful products, they can’t penetrate through dirt and grime to get to the germs hidden underneath. A simple cleaning can remove visible dirt and organic material and allow the disinfectant to do its job. Service providers who say they can clean and disinfect in one step are decreasing the efficacy of the disinfectant and increasing the likelihood that viruses and other germs remain on the surface.

On average, disinfecting shouldn’t cost more than a regular carpet cleaning.

Second, disinfecting requires specific tools and equipment. It’s not simply a matter of picking up a tub of disinfecting wipes at the local big-box store and wiping down the surfaces in a building. Wiping is actually a problematic disinfection method. Wipes accumulate soil and biofilm, and if they aren’t changed frequently enough, they spread germs around instead of removing them. Many service providers use a disinfectant spray and towels. If they do not allow the spray to dwell, or remain visibly wet, on the towel for the designated amount of time, the disinfectant won’t be as effective.

The best way to disinfect is through the use of an electrostatic sprayer. This method wraps around surfaces to coat them evenly. This allows the disinfectant to be easily applied to hard-to-reach or irregularly shaped surfaces. Electrostatic spraying has been used for many years in the agricultural and painting industries, and experienced service providers rely on them for their infection control services. Due to current high demand, professional-grade electrostatic sprayers can be hard to come by, and pandemic profiteers new to disinfecting may be using less-effective methods.

Third, on average, disinfecting shouldn’t cost more than a regular carpet cleaning. The final price will depend on a number of factors, including the size and location of the facility, but that’s a good rule of thumb to start with when comparing costs or reviewing a bid. Anything much more than that is bordering on predatory pricing.

No one wants to overpay for any service, especially during a time of great anxiety. Many businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and the last thing overworked and overstressed property managers need is for unscrupulous service providers to charge outrageous fees for basic disinfecting. Infection control is a necessary expense in today’s world, but it doesn’t have to be a budget-busting one.

Featured in CREJ’s October 2020 issue of Property Management Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.