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. 


Anti-Allergen Cleaning: A Service For The New Millennium

05072001-1The 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’s (EPA) web site, “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 as high as two to five — to even 100 times higher indoors than outdoors, a noteworthy fact as most Americans 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 had long wondered whether Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) plays a role in the increasing rate of asthma nationwide. About 17.3 million Americans have this long-term respiratory disease. 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. Of particular concern are the high death rates among African Americans with asthma. 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.

indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health...

Protein related allergens are the key group of indoor 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).

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), after reviewing the latest scientific studies, wrote their report concluding “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.”

Lets take a look at dust mites since they are the number one household allergen.

  • House dust mites are arachnids, not insects. Related to spiders, dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged creatures that are 0.3mm in length and invisible to the human eye.
  • House dust mites are found in virtually all homes, no matter how clean. They live on the dust that accumulates in carpets, fabrics, furniture and bedding.
  • 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 our dead skin cells, which make up to 80% of house dust. They also live off water vapor, which we provide for them by perspiring and breathing approximately one pint per person, per night. So mites are even found in climates with very low humidity.
  • A dust mite will produce 20 fecal pellets per day that is 200 times its own body weight in feces during its short lifetime. If dust mite pellets were the size of golf balls, the average queen size bed would have a pile of pellets 70 feet high.
  • During the night, most people toss and turn up to 60 or 70 times. This expels mite feces pellets into the air from bedding and pillows. These allergens can stay in the air for up to two hours. Once airborne, dried dust mite droppings are inhaled into our airways 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; therefore starting the cycle again.

Laurence Lee, a Certified Industrial Hygienist at Argus Pacific has even found high levels of dust mites in office work places. He believes this is due to poor maintenance practices.

What is the solution for allergy suffers?

Less than four years ago, the anti-allergen products market was worth less than $50 million. Today all anti-allergen consumer products sold are valued in excess of $200 million, in addition to the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical services. The U.S. Department of Commerce believes the sale of anti-allergen chemistry (exclusive of pharmaceuticals) will exceed $1 billion per annum by 2010.

The current chemistries used to fight these allergenic proteins are either mitacides and other insecticides or allergen neutralizers.

Benzyl benzoate was the mitacide used in SC Johnson’s product Allercare®. However, that product was plagued with a lack of foresight with regards to the use of fragrances. The product used a persistent fragrance that proved to be a severe irritant to asthmatic patients. This debacle resulted in SC Johnson pulling their product from retail shelves in 1999.

Tannic acid has been the traditional component in formulations for neutralizing protein allergens. The drawback is that it stains upholstery and carpeting. Though some of these formulas have been “de-colorized,” exposure to sunlight and pH will still cause fabrics to become discolored. New plant-based anti-allergen products are available that do not discolor textiles.

Dr. Bob Hamilton, a senior laboratory research biochemist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, states if an anti-allergen product is to be 100% effective, then the surface must first be cleaned with the hot water extraction method. Just spraying a dust mite treatment on the surface by itself will not do a complete job of treating the problem.

This is where the professional cleaner comes in. Who is better situated to extract soft surfaces and treat them with a neutralizing product?

The professional cleaner is already in the home performing cleaning services. Adjusting procedures to focus on the allergy suffer would not be a major change.

In the July issue of ICS Cleaning Specialist, I’ll address how the professional cleaner can develop and market this service to the homeowner.


A New Cleaning Trend: Anti-Allergen Services


The rug-cleaning specialist is a person who works with customers who tend to have valuable home furnishings. This customer is more affluent, better educated, and concerned about health and safety issues.

They are the perfect customer profile for offering anti-allergen services. However, most homeowners are not aware that a proven system of anti-allergen cleaning is available.


Allergy Relief Through Environmental Control

The rug-cleaning specialist works with customers who tend to have high-value home furnishings. This customer is more affluent and better educated than average, and is concerned about health and safety issues. 

This is the perfect customer profile for offering allergy relief services. However, most homeowners are not aware that a proven system of allergy relief 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. 

Also, the record has been set straight regarding the misinformation about hard surfaces vs. carpet and allergies. Clean, dry, well-maintained carpet actually improves air quality. 


Cleaning For Health - A New Perspective

Baby DoctorSeveral cleaning companies have taken a bold new approach to marketing their services to customers who have concerns about the health of their family. 

It is estimated that less than 50 percent of homes have ever had their carpets or upholstery professional cleaned. The reasons vary, but most homeowners are not aware unseen soil can act as a trigger for allergies and asthma. 

To reach homeowners who have health concerns you will need to develop a unique marketing plan that reflects your operation, your market and the prospective groups on which you intend to focus. The plan’s specifics are determined by the individual; however, there are some guidelines that can help you during its development.  Customer purchasing motivations are quite varied. However, the health and safety of family members are key concerns of most homeowners. 

Consumer BrochureOne of the major reasons people develop allergic illnesses is overexposure to various allergens, especially those found in indoor air from pets and dust mites.

It is now clear that allergies can, in fact, be controlled, and even prevented, by avoiding the triggers that cause them. This strategy is called environmental control. 

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 almost 25 percent of the U.S. population suffer from allergic illnesses, you will have a large number of current 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 are designed to elicit information and create the opening for a conversation about anti-allergen cleaning and treatment. You will need to put together a brief presentation script you can use on the phone to explain these services once you receive permission to explain the program.  Use your supplier-provided brochures, which can also be used as mailings and leave-behind pieces, during face-to-face presentations to customers. 

When speaking with people who do not have allergy suffers in the household, there is still an opportunity to discuss allergy prevention, particularly when there are young children in the house or a baby on the way. 

It will be very important that you can speak knowledgably about allergic illnesses in a general way, and more specifically about environmental control. People with allergic illnesses often know a lot about them, and they are grateful for someone to talk to who can empathize with their problems and possibly offer solutions.  Given that allergy relief services need to be provided every 6 months (in some cases, every 3 months) these customers are ideal to offer maintenance contracts. If the customer chooses not to commit to a 6-month cleaning cycle, contact them after the fifth month to schedule the next cleaning.

When offering services as a preventive measure, these same procedures can be followed. Given that there may be less of a sense of urgency when there is no active allergic illness in the household, it may make sense to offer a cleaning package based on hypo-allergenic cleaning materials and allergy-preventive cleaning procedures like mattress cleaning.  This will allow you to offer a very differentiated package from your competition, and address the concerns of people with questions about chemicals and toxins in their home. They may be chemically sensitive, but not allergic, to home bio-pollutants. 

The key to successful marketing is give people a reason to buy your services that differentiates you from your competition. Most important, 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 that you ask these people for referrals. 
    • Publicity is also a very important part of your marketing efforts. New approaches to treating indoor allergens have a lot of media value. Don’t underestimate the power of a feature story in your local paper, or being part of a radio interview show that reaches your market. 
    • Another excellent, credibility-enhancing source of referrals can be found in making presentations to schools and PTA groups, church groups, allergy-support groups (check with your local hospitals), fraternal organizations and the like. 
    • It also makes sense to add allergy-relief services to your current advertising efforts. These can be added to advertising you do currently, or you can create separate communications – e.g. a newsletter – specifically for these services. 

It is very important when marketing allergy-relief services to avoid drastic scare tactics, as this approach has proven to backfire. No one likes to be manipulated, and scare tactics often have this flavor. 

The main focus should be images that reflect the removing of pain. Allergic-illness sufferers are often quite restricted in their activities. They miss school and work, go to the doctor’s office far more frequently, and feel pain because their children are suffering. 

You will find a good return on your investment of doing well by doing good.


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