How to do it... Design for infection control

During remodeling or in between, providers must be continuously mindful of keeping environments clean. “Designers, housekeeping staff and maintenance professionals need to take every opportunity to protect against possible bacterial and infectious agents,” is how Jim McLain, general manager, Eldercare Interiors Division at Construction Specialties, puts it. Here's what experts advise.

1. Know the trouble spots. Anything exposed to people's hands, airborne contaminants or moisture are prime bacterial growth spots. 

McLain suggests special focus on items like handrails, grab bars, wall surfaces and doorways.

Don't overlook nailhead trim, pleats, and deep tufting, advises Anna Chaney, lead contract designer for Flexsteel. 

“Anything porous poses serious infection control challenges,” adds Nick Alexandropoulos, strategic marketing analyst for Altro USA – especially where floorcovering elements such as carpeting and grout are concerned. 

2. Consider replacing troublesome materials.

“Designers and owners are shying away from, and even removing, things like permeable fabrics and cellulose-based wall coverings because they can harbor germs, bacteria and bodily fluids, all of which are difficult to clean and extract,” notes McLain. So-called “pebblette” textured surfaces can also be difficult to keep clean, he adds. “Even privacy curtains with traditional spool carrier and track suspensions can be quite cumbersome to remove and replace for laundering, tempting housekeepers to compromise cleaning protocols,” he adds.

Jamie Thorn, national sales manager for Forbo Flooring NA, adds, “When a flooring product absorbs spills, it becomes impossible to extract 100% through cleaning and maintenance techniques. Thus, you have a possible breeding ground within the product.”

Other problems, such as poorly adhered flooring like modular tiles and planks could allow innumerable microbes and germs to seep down and become trapped on the substrate, making them impossible to find or properly remove.

3. Look for infection control-friendly products.

“Newer generations of wall coverings have replaced older pebblette textures with less pronounced surfaces that are bacteria-resistant and easily cleaned,” according to McLain. He cautions buyers to do their homework on antimicrobial or biocidal claims for fabrics and wall coverings. 

“Strong and cleanable finish options are your best surface layer defense,” says Chaney.

Little correlation exists between the price of flooring and its ability to control infections, according to Thorn. 

4. Don't sacrifice cleanliness for beauty. 

“Finding a balance between performance, cleanability and aesthetics is tough,” Alexandropoulos acknowledges. But no one disputes cleanability is a topmost purchasing criteria.

Thorn advises buyers to ask flooring manufacturers about proper cleaning for things such as urine, food and oil-based spills. He suggests installing a small “test floor” to try before buying.

Alexandropoulos points out that advancements in wood film products are now allowing vinyl solutions to be water- and bacteria-resistant. Kwalu, for example, has simulated high-impact-resilient polymer wood-mimicking elements that are significantly more durable and easier to clean than their natural counterparts, says Kwalu CEO Michael Zusman.

5. Know the technical specs and ensure your purchases abide by them. As McLain notes, there are many pertaining to bacteria and chemical resistance and cleanability, with the lead standard from ASTM.

Alexandropoulos urges buyers to bone up on the newly minted FGI performance and hygiene Guidelines for Residential Healthcare: “Whether the facility is independent living, assisted living or skilled nursing, the choice of flooring and walling is critical in minimizing health and safety risks residents face in everyday activity.”