Anti-Allergen Cleaning, Part I


Whether in good times or bad, it is always worth your while to take a look at services with the potential to help increase sales in your existing carpet cleaning business.

As a rug-cleaning specialist, you work with customers who tend to have valuable home furnishings. This customer is more affluent, better educated and concerned about health and safety issues. This is the perfect client profile for offering anti-allergen services. However, most homeowners are not aware that a proven system of anti-allergen cleaning is available. 

The scientific community has come to the conclusion that better environmental hygiene will improve people’s health. We in the cleaning industry have intuitively known all along that a clean home or work place promotes health. Now, recent scientific work is proving our point. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “…the EPA and its Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.” EPA statistics show levels of many airborne pollutants to be 100 times higher indoors than outdoors, a noteworthy fact as most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “50 percent of all illnesses are caused by or aggravated by polluted indoor air.” 

Researchers have long wondered whether indoor air quality plays a role in the increasing rate of asthma nationwide. About 75 million Americans have asthma or allergies to indoor bio-pollutants. Protein-related allergens are the key group of indoor bio-pollutants that act as triggers for asthma and other respiratory ailments. These proteins, in addition to mold and fungi, include allergens from dust mites (Der p 1 and Der f 1); Cockroach (Bla g 1); dog dander (Can f 1) and cat saliva (Fel d 1).

Since 1980, the prevalence of asthma and asthma-related hospitalizations and deaths has increased 75 percent. It is the most common chronic disease among children. Moreover, the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. The prevalence of the respiratory disease in some countries – including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom – exceeds that in the United States. 

The Institute of Medicine, after reviewing the latest scientific studies, wrote their report concluding that “exposure to allergens produced by house dust mites – found in nearly every indoor environment – can lead to asthma in children who are predisposed to developing the disease. The indoor agents included allergens from dust mites and cockroaches; fungi and mold; dander, hair, and saliva from domestic pets and other animals; viruses and bacteria; spores and materials from houseplants; and irritants from secondhand tobacco smoke, pesticides, cleaning and building materials and other pollutants.” 

10132008-1Let’s take a look at dust mites, since they are the No. 1 household allergen. House dust mites are arachnids, not insects. Related to spiders, dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged creatures 0.3mm in length and invisible to the human eye. They are found in virtually all homes, no matter how clean. They live on the dust that accumulates in carpets, fabrics, furniture and bedding. 

50 percent of all illnesses are caused by or aggravated by polluted indoor air.

The primary source of dust mite exposure in the home is in the bedroom, which provides the best conditions of warmth, humidity and food for their growth. They are present in mattresses, pillows, blankets, carpets, upholstered furniture, curtains, and similar fabrics. The average bedroom can be infested by millions of microscopic dust mites. We spend around one-third of our lives in the bedroom, so we are in close and prolonged contact with dust mites. 

The house dust mite survives by eating dead skin cells, which comprise up to 80 percent of household dust. Dust mites also live off water vapor, which we provide for them – approximately one pint per person, per night – by perspiring and breathing. So mites are found even in climates with very low humidity. 

During the night, most people toss and turn up to 60 or 70 times. This expels mite feces pellets from bedding and pillows into the air. These allergens can stay in the air for up to two hours. Once airborne, dried dust mite droppings are inhaled, causing allergic reactions in asthmatics. These allergens can cause wheezing, coughs, itchy eyes, sniffles and in more serious cases, asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis. 

The eradication of the dust mite should not be your objective, because total eradication is impossible. Eradication would require such high levels of pesticides that it would be harmful to humans. Additionally, we always carry some mites on our hair or eyebrows that would be re-introduced to our bedding, starting the cycle again. 

 What is the Solution for Allergy Sufferers?

To effectively control dust mites and other bio-pollutant allergens, the mattress needs to be regularly cleaned (about every six months for allergy sufferers). 

The anti-allergen cleaning steps are:

  • First, the mattress should be vacuumed, ideally with a truckmount so the exhaust is vented outside. If a truckmount is not available, use a HEPA-filter vacuum.
  • After vacuuming, wet-clean the top and sides of the mattress. Don’t over-wet the fabric, as the customer will need to use the mattress that evening. Be certain to use a product specifically for anti-allergen cleaning.
  • The last step is the application of a non-pesticide dust mite allergen-neutralizer on the textile surface to control bio-pollutants between regular cleaning.
  • “Do you know specifically what you or your family member is allergic to?”
  • “Have you heard of environmental control?”
  • “Are you taking any steps to reduce your exposure to indoor allergens?”
  • “What results have you obtained?”

10132008-2Don’t forget the pillows! An old pillow can contain up to 20 percent of its weight in dust mites, their fecal matter and body parts. Every time your head hits the pillow, the pressure acts as a billow blowing the allergens into the bedroom. The pillows can be cleaned and treated with a dust mite-neutralizing product, but replacing the pillow every six months would be the best advice to give your customers. 

Next, turn your attention to the carpet and upholstery. Because of chemical sensitivities, use cleaning agents that are free of perfumes, builders, hydrocarbons and solvents. New products manufactured from plant-based alcohol ethoxylates meet these criteria. Also, finish with an application of an anti-allergen neutralizing product to control the allergens between cleanings. 

10132008-3Be certain to use anti-allergen materials that have outside test data to prove product efficacy, a lack of hazardous content, and that it can do the job of cleaning. 

In addition to allergy sufferers, it seems more and more of the general population is concerned with health and safety issues. Many homeowners are now asking to see the MSDS of the products to be used to clean their home. If they see hazardous materials listed, they may demand cleaning with hot water only, which of course limits your ability to remove soil and allergens. 

Look at the manufacturer’s MSDS to see if the product contains any hazardous materials. If you see “trade secret” claims, review the exposure controls as a sign of potential hazard level. If the company is telling you it is safe or making claims as to efficacy, ask to see the test data. 

You can look to third-party testing as a sign the product meets the manufacturer’s claims. One third-party testing organization is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE). The EPA is able to set standards without undue influence from non-governmental entities; those stakeholders may benefit financially from achieving “green” certification. The criteria used by DfE may be similar to other organizations, but the DfE is more stringent in the approval process. 

Your company will need to develop a unique marketing plan for allergy relief services that reflects your operation, your market and the prospective groups on which you intend to focus. Your marketing plan may be quite conservative or highly ambitious. In either case, an excellent place to begin is with your own customer base and those that contact your business for the services you currently offer.

Given that nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population suffers from allergic illnesses, you will have a large number of customers and new callers who will immediately identify themselves as potential purchasers of allergy relief services if you ask the simple question, “Does anyone in your household suffer from allergies or asthma?” 

When you get a “yes” response to that question, you have the opportunity to ask further questions, such as:

  • “Do you know specifically what you or your family member is allergic to?”
  • “Have you heard of environmental control?”
  • “Are you taking any steps to reduce your exposure to indoor allergens?”
  • “What results have you obtained?”

These questions elicit information and create the opening for a conversation about anti-allergen cleaning and treatment. You will need to put together a brief presentation you can use on the phone to explain these services once you receive permission.

Use the brochures developed by your supplier during face-to-face presentations, which can also be used as mailings and leave-behind pieces.   The key to successful marketing is to give people a reason to buy your services that differentiates you from your competition. Most importantly, this reason must be relevant to them and their needs.  

Referrals will be a vital part of your allergy treatment business. You will find that there are people who will call you expressing their undying gratitude for your help with their suffering. It is critically important to ask these people for referrals. 

It also makes sense to add allergy-relief services to your current advertising efforts. This can be added to your current advertising programs, or you can create separate communications specifically for these services, like a newsletter. It is very important when marketing allergy-relief services to avoid drastic scare tactics, as this approach has been proven to backfire. 

You will find a new dynamic in your cleaning business when you can do well by creating home wellness for your customers.

 Continue to Part 2»

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