Preparing for School Re-opening: Cleaning and Disinfecting Schools

As we continue to learn more about the most effective ways to combat the transmission of Covid-19, luckily there are ways to keep our surfaces clean while also prioritizing our health. 

First, it is crucial to understand that cleaning and disinfecting are just one part of preventing disease transmission.  Social distancing and personal protective behaviors like staying home when sick and wearing a mask; as well as personal hygiene practices (as we discussed in last weeks blog), are all necessary and effective parts to infection prevention.

When possible, we should put measures in place and utilize design principles to allow for better social distancing. Wearing masks should be mandatory when sharing public space in order to protect against the transmission of live virus particles through aerosols. Personal hygiene, such as washing hands with warm, soapy water before entering and leaving shared-used spaces such as art classrooms, cafeterias, and bathrooms; and avoiding touching masks and faces, can prevent the spread of live virus particles from people to surfaces.


Second, don’t underestimate the importance of cleaning. The less clutter there is the easier it will be to clean a space.  In a classroom environment, this means removing items that are not necessary for instruction. Items in the classroom should be kept to a minimum and be easy to wipe down.  The less items there are, the easier it is to keep the space clean and free of germs. This is a shift from how we traditionally view classroom spaces, but research actually shows that decreasing clutter can improve the physical and physiological well-being of students. 

Remember, cleaning is not the same as disinfecting. Cleaning can remove live virus particles, whereas disinfecting kills live virus particles. If you utilize certain cleaning techniques, you can remove up to 99% of germs from a surface.  For disinfectant to work properly, you must first clean the surface. 

When choosing a disinfectant, make sure it is on the EPA’s List N to kill Covid-19.  Disinfectants listed on EPA’s List N are approved only for use on hard, non-porous surfaces. While this list is long, keep in mind that many of the disinfectants listed can actually irritate the respiratory system and trigger asthma and allergies, which we should be avoiding if possible. 

To choose a safer disinfectant, Green Seal recommends choosing List N products with one of the following active ingredients 

  • hydrogen peroxide** 
  • citric acid 
  • lactic acid 
  • ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol or just alcohol), or 
  • isopropyl alcohol 
  • peroxyacetic acid** 
  • sodium bisulfate

 **The combination of hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid is a designated AOEC asthmagen, so avoid products that contain both.

Green cleaning asks us to make additional decisions about the health and safety, environmental impact, and waste created from cleaning products. Some factors that third-party certifications, such as UL EcoLogo, EPA Safer Choice, and Green Seal take into account include:

  1. The potential health and safety impacts of the active chemicals;
  2. The ability of the chemicals to leach into the environment and impact ecosystems, waterways, and wildlife;
  3. The packaging and disposal of the product and its packaging (dispensed, diluted, recyclable, refillable) 

Third, understand the requirements of using chemical disinfectants. Each disinfectant product comes with a safety data sheet that includes instructions of the required personal protective equipment, compatible surfaces, potential health and safety effects, and safe storage and disposal considerations. Review these carefully before use and make sure custodial and school staff are trained on the specific considerations of the products and have access to required PPE.


We invite you to join our upcoming webinar on August 24th from 9-10:30 am to learn more about effective green cleaning and disinfecting techniques you can use for a safer school reopening. Additionally, be sure to tune in to Women for a Healthy Environment’s Facebook Live Chat with Kara Rubio, MPH & Dr. Erika Eitland, MPH, ScD, research analyst at Perkins&Will this Thursday, August 13th at 12:30 pm on WHE’s Facebook page to discuss the recently created guidance document for reopening of schools. 

We encourage school personnel to submit their questions about best practices regarding reopening through this form. 

This work is a collaboration between Green Building Alliance’s Green and Healthy Schools Academy and Women for a Healthy Environment’s Healthy Schools PA program.  This blog was co-authored by Kara Rubio, MPH, Healthy Schools PA Coordinator of Women for a Healthy Environment and Katie Lockley, Green & Healthy Schools Senior Director at Green Building Alliance.


Planning, Preparing, and Responding to Potential COVID-19: Resources for Schools

Best Practices for Controlling Infection Spread in Schools

We are sharing this information to help schools plan, prepare, and respond in the case of an infectious disease outbreak.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) virus, and we are learning more about it every day. There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. At this point, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes it. Stopping transmission (spread) of the virus through everyday practices is the best way to keep people healthy. More information on COVID-19 is available here.

The CDC reports that schools should take the following steps to prepare their facilities to act in case of a reported COVID-19 case in their community.

  • Review, update, and implement emergency operating plans (EOPs).
  • Develop with information-sharing partners, such as primary care clinics, local health departments, and hospital systems.
  • Monitor and plan for absenteeism of students and staff.
  • Establish procedures for students and staff who are sick at school.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning.
  • Create communications plans for use with your school community.

For more in-depth information, read the Centers for Disease Control’s full guidance here.

What disinfectant products are most effective to stop the spread of infectious diseases?

Please note that there are no approved EPA-registered disinfectants against COVID-19.
Please review the EPA Statement here and the suggested disinfectants most likely to be effective against COVID-19 here.

Where should we focus our disinfecting and cleaning efforts?

High-traffic areas, such as front offices, nurses offices, cafeterias and lunch rooms, staff break rooms, locker rooms, and bathrooms should be disinfected daily.

Pay special attention to high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, water fountains, keyboards, bathroom sink faucets, and desk/tabletops in high-traffic areas.

Lastly, if you utilize a transportation service for your students, work with your school bus or vehicle operators to regularly clean and disinfect seats and surfaces.

Download these informational posters to share with your school community.

What you need to know about coronavirus – CDC
Stop the Spread of Germs – CDC


Centers for Disease Control



Green Cleaning in Schools: Good for Students, the Environment, and the Bottom Line

Green cleaning is cleaning to protect health that does not harm the environment. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require cleaning products to list ingredients, and as a result many chemical cleaners contain a number of known human toxics or carcinogens. Fumes from some cleaning products have been shown to induce asthma in otherwise healthy individuals.

The environment has a much greater effect on children than it does on adults. Children breathe more air and drink more water per pound of body weight, and their organ systems are still developing. Research has shown that attendance and test scores are lower due to poor indoor air quality. Since children spend so much of their time at school, it is important that the school environment is healthy so that children are not at risk of missing valuable learning time.

Children who play on the floor often put their hands in their mouths, making them more likely to expose themselves to chemicals via hand-to-mouth contact. Residues from cleaning products can also cause burns or rashes on children’s skin, especially if the product was used incorrectly or in excess.

Click HERE to learn more, including helpful EPA and CDC links.

Furthermore, green cleaning is good for the environment. Approximately 23 million tons of carbon emissions would be saved if all schools in the United States switched to green cleaning techniques. It also saves money. One school district in New York saved $365,000 after switching to a green cleaning program. This frees up funds to be allocated towards educational programs rather than routine building maintenance.

It is important to choose products that protect human health. Choose products that:

  •      Have been certified by a third party (such as Green Seal, Eco Logo or Safer Choices
  •       Contain no known or probable carcinogens
  •       Have a neutral pH
  •       Are free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which easily evaporate into the air
  •       Are not packaged in aerosol or spray cans
  •       Are non-irritating to eyes or skin
  •       Do not contain fragrances

Green cleaning is beneficial for children, employees, buildings, and school districts’ budgets. In school districts where gree cleaning is already incorporated, test scores and attendance are up and costs are down. Urge your children’s school district to adopt green cleaning procedures. Contact us to learn how you can make an impact.