Spa sanitation has been one of the hottest topics in our industry in recent memory due to COVID-19 concerns. It affects everyone, literally. Remember the panic when you couldn’t find toilet paper? This is now happening with cleaning and disinfection supplies. On top of that, is the effects these products have on the environment. With unprecedented supply chain issues, and priority positioning of disinfectants in hospitals, it’s getting harder to find the disinfectants, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment spas have been so accustomed to employing. Now, that begs the question, if, and when, spas can reopen for business, how is it done safely, within regulatory guidelines, environmentally ethically, and efficiently? The answer may be alternative, and natural sanitation methods. So, let’s chat about what those alternatives could be, how they can be effective, and, of course, how to implement these methods to suit the spa’s needs.
Some tried and true alternative methods of cleaning have been around long before modern techniques were adopted. We’re talking about going all the way back to Ancient Babylon and Egypt. According to cleaninginstitute.com, “The Ebers papyrus, a medical document from about 1500 B.C. describes combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to form a soap-like material used for treating skin diseases, as well as for washing.” Although we’ve adapted these methods, the principal is the same and can be evidenced through time.Using soap for cleanliness can reduce widespread disease and the transmission of viruses. This insight is more important now than ever in recent history.Simple hand washing can make a huge impact on the spread of disease and aiding in the decline of transmission. Even hand washing now has an alternative – hand sanitizer. If it’s at least a 60% alcohol, according to the Mayo Clinic, and you let it dry before switching tasks, it can be just as, or even more, effective than washing to reduce microbes. Many studies have been done, including the one by Andreas Widmer of Oxford University, that shows, “It is microbiologically more effective in vitro, and in vivo, it saves time. Preliminary data demonstrate better compliance than with hand washing.” Considering they state that, “healthcare workers frequently do not wash their hands, and compliance rarely exceeds 40%,” this is compelling evidence to think of alternatives at every step of the infection control plan. So, in a world gripped by pandemic, it’s increasingly important to not only wash your hands, with plain soap and water, but to keep those alternative methods within reach to protect you, your clients, and the community.
CLEANING THE SPA
Now that your hands are clean, let’s tackle the task of finding a potential alternative for hard surface disinfection in the spa. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Using the least hazardous and most effective products available will protect the health of those in your care, staff, the custodial personnel, and other building occupants. Using these products is also better for the environment.” They recommend seeking out products that have received the Green Seal; you can find a list of these at the Green Seal website. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment “Antimicrobial Pesticide Pilot Project is the only program that can legally certify disinfecting products that are less hazardous for human health and the environment in the United States.”
Many medical practices, med spas, and day spas have begun to implement the use of alternative cleaning and disinfecting methods to keep up with infection control during the COVID crisis and now, beyond that. We see that they are typically utilizing protocols that include ingredients such as acetic acid, also known as white vinegar, to keep up with the cleanliness of their treatment areas. Some are also implementing the use of sodium bicarbonate, a.k.a baking soda, to break down even some of the most stubborn bioburdens in the clinic. According to Stephen Cornish of the David Suzuki Organization, both white vinegar and baking soda were shown to be “highly effective against potential bacterial pathogens,” which is promising considering the unprecedented infection control supply chain issues we currently face in the spa industry.
Additional household ingredients that position themselves as encouraging alternatives are hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, essential oils and Borax. According to a study done by SFEnvironment, hydrogen peroxide solutions “have very few, if any, environmental warnings. Hydrogen peroxide is not toxic to aquatic species, and it rapidly degrades in the environment into oxygen and water.” Armed with this information, it appears that hydrogen peroxide can certainly poise itself as not only a great alternative method for cleaning but also as a sustainable and environmentally-friendly substitute for disinfection.
Now, let’s talk about lemon juice. Lemon juice, or any citrus juice for that matter, features citric acid which is naturally anti-bacterial and antiseptic. These benefits can be closely compared to that of bleach while offering a pleasant and refreshing aroma. Using this as an additive can enhance the cleaning capabilities of a solution as well as helping to deodorize a space without the use of aerosol sprays or air fresheners. For additional sustainability and environmental mindfulness, utilize organic lemons or organic citrus fruits!
Additionally, due diligence would not be done if we didn’t discuss essential oils. Namely Thyme Oil. Thymol is an ingredient that can be found in high concentrations in thyme oil and in EPA-registered disinfectants, sometimes as the main active ingredient. Its primary function is, according to www.bccdc.ca, “to impair cell membrane integrity and aid in the decrease in ATP within the cell”. This essentially means that the cell of the microorganisms cannot sustain life therefore ceasing to function and ending mitosis. It has even shown to have efficacy against E.coli after 5 minutes and S. Aureus after 15 minutes, in varying concentrations, according to bccdc.ca. This information should encourage you to delve deeper into your research of essential oils, especially thyme oil, as a substitute disinfecting agent. Be sure to include tea tree oil and lemon essential oil in your research as they often accompany thyme oil in homemade preparations.
Lastly, lets introduce Borax to the conversation. Borax has been in use for its ability to clean for 4,000 years. The old adage “tried and true” comes to mind when thinking of the use of Borax. Chemically speaking, according to Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., “Borax and other borates clean and bleach by converting some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). This reaction is more favorable in hotter water.” Additionally, she states that, “The boron, salt, and/or oxygen of boron inhibit the metabolic processes of many organisms. This characteristic allows borax to disinfect and kill unwanted pests.” While having an alkaline pH (~9.5), Borax can be added to solutions to potentially enhance their effectiveness against bioburdens or even to function as a buffering agent to keep chemical reactions occurring correctly. Borax can also help to suspend other cleaning agents on surfaces longer to magnify their potential disinfectant properties. Whichever way you lean, hospital-level, natural, or a customized approach, it is always encouraged to research your options and then use that gathered information and data to make an informed decision on what’s right for you, your business, and your reputation. Some great websites to visit are those of the EPA, OSHA, and of course your state regulatory agency and/or Department of Health.
For those that wish to employ natural sanitation practices, it is a considerable recommendation to not only research a list of employable ingredients, but to also be well versed in mixing, storing, and implementing these solutions. The goal should be to maintain a level of efficacy that mirrors that of standard regulation, as closely as is feasible, in order to use these procedures in the spa. There are many articles, blogs, Pinterest and other social media posts that promise to enlighten us to natural alternatives, however, there appears to be much variation in what actually works. One must filter through this information with a proverbial fine-toothed comb for literature with a factual basis or scientific references to claims. One such place that you can find this information is www.thoughtco.com. There you will find a plethora of scientifically based articles to support your decisions. For example, a search of cleaning alternatives populates a list of numerous support pieces for research, such as an article titled Which Sponge is Better for the Environment?, wherein the author, discusses a very similar topic to this article, more specifically about alternatives to sponges, with a multitude of references to scientific facts. So, in essence, research isn’t just important to perform, it's important to do it thoroughly and well.
So what mixture is recommended for general cleaning in the spa? According to mom.com, “To make thyme disinfectant, combine 2 cups hot water, 20 drops thyme essential oil and ¼ cup citric acid powder into a plastic spray bottle. Shake well before use. Spray onto surfaces and wipe with a dry cloth or towel.” Additionally, you can utilize an equal parts vinegar/water mixture either in a spray format or a soak for up to a 20-minute contact time. You can even include that EPA approved thymol additive of thyme essential oil to this mixture. If you haven’t heard already, you can also scour tougher jobs with a baking soda paste and water/vinegar mixture. Allow a baking soda paste mixture to rest on the area for up to 15 minutes, then, saturate with your water and vinegar mixture and scrub-a-dub the mess away. Lastly, it is imperative to understand that for best results, you should be mixing these solutions immediately prior to use. If mixing large batches for later use, be sure to label and date the mixture; store away from direct sun, at room temperature, and in a suitable storage container. It should go without saying that you need to inform yourself on specific methods and become a subject matter expert on your preferred alternative cleaning procedures. Pandemic or not!
The environmental impact that our industry has is palpable. With the consumables during a treatment, retail product packaging, laundry, and even the cleaning products we choose to use, it’s a hard fact to ignore. You would be surprised at all the waste from just one busy day of treating clients. It is a documented and ongoing concern. You can do your part by partnering with brands that have a robust social responsibility initiative to cut down their carbon footprint and environmental impact, by virtue of, reducing yours. Use products, like those on the list mentioned above, that have been researched, studied, and certified as safe not only for you, and your clients, and for aquatic life and the environment. Compare that list against the approved Centers for Disease Control and Environmental Protection Agency list of disinfectants for use against COVID-19 for an additional layer of protection for the community. Infection control has become more important to consumers now more than ever, so being properly informed will only serve you well during this time.
Additionally, careful consideration should be taken when choosing your vendor partners. Their philosophy on sustainability and reducing waste should be at the forefront of what they do. If it’s important to you, it should also be important to them. A couple ways that companies can contribute to this effort starts during the manufacturing process. Utilizing sustainable ingredients in bio-degradable bottles and packaging can have not only a huge impact on the environment but also your bottom line. Using less cellophane to wrap product boxes and opting for recyclable packing materials are just some of the ways these companies can reduce costs (and waste) that they can then pass on to you through their wholesale pricing. Be aware of their efforts and ask questions regarding their social responsibility platforms. Then, you can use this information to weigh your options of partners and brands that feature a philosophy that is similar to your own.
Whether you have a solid pulse on where to get your cleaning products, or you have no clue when you’ll get more in stock, it’s always important to remember the direct impact you can have on the planet. Using that in your decision-making process is critical. With dwindling supplies of our beloved brands of disinfectants, it’s a good idea to research alternative options and how to implement those into an infection control plan. While doing so, be mindful of what brands you choose to partner with and their stance on social responsibility. Philosophies lining up is always good business, especially now that disinfecting has become the most important part of your job these days. So, do it well, do it efficiently, do it ethically, and of course, do it safely. Remember to wash your hands and stay safe out there.
Brittany Facio is a Phoenix-based educator-turned-business development manager, passionate about how proper aesthetics education and sophisticated protocol implementation can create business-changing revenue. As a business development manager, she is responsible for not only educating her clients on skin care products and protocols, both on an individual basis and in regional training seminars, but also for providing marketing, merchandising, and branding assistance to generate leads and capture a new audience. When she is not working, Facio can be found enjoying play time with her family and Havanese rescue, Spruce, trying a new dinner recipe, and binge-watching comedies on Netflix.