Regardless of whether you’re male or female, at some point in your childhood you likely read the book or watched the movie Cinderella. Cinderella was overworked and forced to clean, cook and sew by her nasty step-mother and her step-sisters. Luckily, as with all fairy tales, the story has a happy ending with Cinderella falling in love and living happily ever after, but prior to that did you ever consider what those cleaning chemicals could have been doing to Cinderella and her animal friends?
I’ll admit, I hadn’t. Truthfully, I don’t really think it had mattered in the movie either. Really, my intent of using Cinderella and her friends was to ease into my dirty little secret. While I know quite a bit on the topic of cleaning and disinfection and have certainly conducted my fair share of in-service training to teach people how to clean and disinfect, I am too lazy to do it myself. I have a housekeeper; however, unlike Cinderella’s nasty step-mother, I do not force anyone to work. In fact, I recently had to change housekeepers as my previous one retired. So what does this have to do with anything?
How many of you have ever reacted negatively to the smell of chemicals – too pungent, too lemony, too anything. Have you ever had a reaction that caused respiratory irritation or any other form of distress? While many of us know that animals have an acute sense of smell, researchers have concluded that our noses are in fact exquisitely sensitive instruments that guide our everyday life. They have found that even very subtle smells can change your mood, your behaviour or the choices you make without you even realising it. In fact, a study out of the University of Utrecht found that the hint of aroma wafting out of a hidden bucket of citrus-scented cleaner was enough to persuade students to clean up after themselves even though most had not even registered the smell. I may have to try that with my son!
Completely opposite to making you want to clean, there is also research to show that when there has been a change in a cleaning product, regardless of how small, some people will pick up on this immediately. Depending on the circumstance, this change in odor profile may simply require a period of adjustment to get used to the new product. However, it is possible that some will experience chemosensory irritation (a sensation of burning in the nose, eyes, mouth or respiratory pathways) associated with the change in odor profile of a disinfectant. The reason being is that as people become accustomed to the smell or odor profile of a product, any change in odor profile regardless of how slight a change can result in perceived irritation. Studies investigating chemosensory irritation resulting from both agreeable and disagreeable odors have found that people often report health symptoms associated with the use of a chemical at concentrations well below the concentration that is actually capable of eliciting upper respiratory tract irritation. Because odor properties can often be detected at much lower concentrations than those capable of eliciting upper respiratory tract irritation, confusion between odor and irritation can create an obstacle during the transition to a new product. Researchers believe that the perception of a malodor elicits a stress-induced reaction and raises the concern for adverse health effects from exposure.
How many of you have chosen to change cleaning and disinfecting products in your facility only to have a rash of complaints about the odor or respiratory irritation? People do not like change. Even if the product you are moving to is safer for them to use, this serves as a reminder that “the nose knows” and if you want a smooth transition, we need to be thoughtful in our introduction of a new product.
You may be wondering why I even brought up my housekeeper. I did because I have experienced the reaction to a change in products first hand. I have gone from coming home to my house smelling clean – meaning there was no smell at all. To a house that smells like harsh chemicals. Sure, my place looks great, but man do my eyes and nose burn when I walk in the door and I’m pretty sure my cat loses all sense of smell for a couple of days. I now know the next time I provide an in-service for a facility conversion, I’ll spend more time prepping the staff on the odor they can expect with their new product and I hope you will too!