Lean Cleaning Practices to Eliminate Department Waste

Lean Cleaning Practices to Eliminate Department Waste

Implementing Lean principles--started by the Ford Motor Company and popularized by the Toyota Motor Corporation--into your organizations cleaning practices will eliminate human and other resource waste.

Lean Cleaning Practices to Eliminate Department Waste

How to Reduce Cleaning Department Waste Through Lean Management

For any number of reasons--ranging from a lack of experience and training in new hires to the mismanagement of resources--your organizations cleaning department is likely responsible for a significant amount of waste--be that time, energy, or material.

Further, confusion regarding what constitutes "clean" permeates the industry, as well as the customers it serves--commonly witnessed in the debate over 'looks and smells clean' vs. 'functionally disinfected for optimal occupant health and performance,' a.k.a.; cleaning for health.

These issues cascade into additional challenges surrounding occupant health and performance, as well as the resulting financial overhead for organizations who must address them.

Fortunately, through a preliminary Lean analysis, it is possible to identify critical aspects of the custodial department's operations to identify and eliminate wasteful practices while ensuring occupant health and facility performance is adhering to the principles of financial bottom lines.


What is Clean?

The first step is to identify what clean means.

Conflicting definitions abound, so cleanliness must be defined by its ultimate purpose--the control and protection of the health, safety, and performance of a facility and its occupants.

A 2014 publication by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA) clarifies that in some detail.


Level 1—Orderly Spotlessness

  • Floors and base molding shine and are bright and clean; colors are fresh.
  • There is no buildup in corners or along walls.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have a freshly cleaned or polished appearance and have no accumulation of dust, dirt, marks, streaks, smudges, or fingerprints.
  • Lights all work and fixtures are clean.
  • Washroom and shower fixtures and tile gleam and are odor free.
  • Supplies are adequate.
  • Trash containers and pencil sharpeners hold only daily waste and are clean and odor free.

Level 2—Ordinary Tidiness

Same as Level 1 with the following exceptions

  • There can be up to two days worth of dust, dirt, stains, or streaks on floors and base molding
  • Dust, smudges, and fingerprints are noticeable on vertical and horizontal surfaces

Level 3—Casual Inattention

  • Floors are swept or vacuumed clean, but upon close observation, there can be stains. A buildup of dirt and floor finish in corners and along walls can be seen.
  • There are dull spots and matted carpet in walking lanes. There are streaks or splashes on base molding.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have visible dust, dirt, marks, smudges, and fingerprints. Lamps all work and fixtures are clean.
  • Trash containers and pencil sharpeners hold only daily waste and are clean and odor free.

Level 4—Moderate Dinginess

  • Floors are swept or vacuumed clean but are dull, dingy, and stained. There is a noticeable buildup of dirt and floor finish in corners and along walls.
  • There are a dull path and matted carpet in the walking lanes. Base molding is dull and dingy with streaks or splashes.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have conspicuous dust, dirt, marks, smudges, and fingerprints.  Lamp fixtures are dirty, and some lamps (up to 5 percent) are burned out.
  • Trash containers and pencil sharpeners have old trash and shavings. They are stained and marked.  Trash containers smell sour.

Level 5—Unkempt Neglect

  • Floors and carpets are dull, dirty, scuffed, and matted. There is a conspicuous buildup of old dirt and floor finish in corners and along walls. Base molding is dirty, stained, and streaked. Gum, stains, dirt, dust balls, and trash are broadcast.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have significant accumulations of dust, dirt, smudges, and fingerprints, all of which will be difficult to remove. Lack of attention is apparent.
  • Light fixtures are dirty with dust balls and flies. Many lamps (more than 5 percent) are burned out.
  • Trash containers and pencil sharpeners overflow. They are stained and marked. Trash containers smell sour.


The Seven Wastes

Sticking to the concept of the Lean Management philosophy, seven commonly identified wastes found in most cleaning departments include:

  • Transportation - How do custodial workers move through a facility?  Are they equipped with everything that they need to accomplish the assigned task without retracing their path unnecessarily?  Ideally, each janitor should only need to make two passes through each space--once to clean, and then to disinfect--without having to return to a cleaning closet for more equipment or product.
  • Inventory - How does your cleaning closet look?  Is it supplied with well-maintained equipment and an adequate amount of cleaning product, or is it overstocked, disorganized, and contain outdated equipment that is likely contributing to waste and potentially leading to cross-contamination?  These issues are typically addressed via chemical management systems (CMS), which allow for strict inventory control and predictable ordering requirements as well as routine planned equipment maintenance.
  • Motion - Repetitive motion injuries plague the custodial industry and can lead to workers compensation litigation and excessive healthcare expenses.  Routine and ongoing safety training combined with modern ergonomically designed equipment, such as backpack vacuums, will significantly reduce these types of injuries while improving productivity.
  • Waiting - Are cleaning staff waiting around for an occupied room to be cleared or for some other process, such as lay times, to expire?  Could that time be more efficiently engaged in some other task?   This challenge requires a significant amount of experience and training to ensure custodial staff are not unnecessarily idle and can shift priorities as unforeseen circumstances arise.
  • Over-production - Are areas being cleaned according to a generically planned schedule, or according to occupancy and use?  In other words, are custodians wasting time and valuable resources deep cleaning restrooms or walkways that are rarely used instead of focusing on high-touch points and high-traffic areas?
  • Over-processing - This area is where the subjective meaning of cleanliness comes into play--everyone has their own standards, and it is important that janitorial staff maintain occupant expectations.  For example; peak student performance was observed at Level 1, with a significant decrease measured at Level 3 and below.  The same may or may not be the case inside of habitually dinging facilities, such as auto repair shops.
  • Defects - Defects in the cleaning process are typically the byproduct of insufficient training and inadequate equipment.  This challenge can lead to significant health issues that can negatively impact the public image of a company, as well as the health of a facilities occupants.


References & Resources



Implementing Lean Management principles requires a significant amount of training and management oversight to effectively implement, especially in an industry plagued by low engagement and high turnover.

Outsourcing your organization's regular cleaning and facilities maintenance tasks is a proven method for cost-effectively maintaining departmental efficiency while avoiding the high costs associated with direct management.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of Lean management practices to eliminate waste in your organizations cleaning department, or if you would like to schedule a free, no-obligation onsite evaluation of your school or businesses cleaning and infection control requirements, contact us today for a free quote!

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