How Science Can Help Us Clean Better (and when it cannot)

The Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI), in support of science-based practices for better cleaning, is committed to driving real world, holistic, comprehensive research rather than “research” designed to yield a single, isolated set of “facts” to drive a marketing agenda.  This commitment is illustrated by the CIRI research conducted in support of the ISSA Clean Standard: K-12 Schools.
How Science Helps Cleaning
Science can help us clean better, if we let it. Here is what to do:

  • Precisely identify the problem to be solved (e.g., show “Product A’s” cleaning efficacy compared to “Product B’s” on the same type of surface and under identical conditions.)
  • Tap credible, independent scientists familiar with cleaning practices to design a study protocol.
  • Have independent scientists familiar with cleaning practices examine, adjust as needed, and approve the study design.
  • Run the study with adequate controls and samples for results to be statistically valid, based on the recommendations of the body of consulting scientists.
  • Report the data accurately without embellishment.  It is fine to simplify for marketing purposes, but not to the point of distorting the facts and findings. Consult with independent science advisors to approve marketing messages for accuracy.

An October, 2013 article in The Economist, “Trouble at the Lab” indicates that:

  • Most scientists are not statisticians and often use improper statistical tests, or just run whatever their software package has available.  
  • CIRI notes:  “They need the help of actual statisticians to validate their studies.  This was a strength of The ISSA Clean Standard research.”
  • Studies can be difficult to duplicate, especially complex, real-world field research.  There is very little reward to scientists for reproducing studies or generating meta-analytic summaries of “state of the science” work.  
  • CIRI notes:  “The Clean Standard research was reproduced and validated in four school districts.”   

When “Research” Hurts Cleaning, or What Not to Do
Sometimes companies conduct studies in which:

  • Only a handful of samples is taken.
  • Conditions are not realistic.
  • The data is “cherry-picked”. 
  • The comparison product is chosen or caused to “lose”.

CIRI aims to correct this problem by making its resources available to support the cleaning sector with bona fide, well-vetted science.

Careful research in cleaning science should yield repeatable results that stand up under scrutiny.

For more information, visit   


Bad Science is a Societal Problem
There are public health, credibility and professional issues at stake, but the cleaning field is not alone in facing challenges.
According to The New Yorker article, “Cleaning Up Science” —  “Recent examination of fifty-three medical studies found that further research was unable to replicate forty-seven of them. All too often, scientists muck about with … studies, and keep tweaking something until they get the result they were hoping to achieve. Unfortunately, each fresh effort increases the risk of getting the right result for the wrong reason, and winding up with a spurious vision of something that doesn’t turn out to be scientifically robust, like a cancer drug that seems to work in trials but fails to work in the real world.”
The New Yorker states that part of the solution is to:
“Restructure the incentives…For many reasons, science has become a race for the swift, but not necessarily the careful…Instead of, for example, rewarding scientists largely for the number of papers they publish—which credits quick, sloppy results that might not be reliable—we might reward scientists to a greater degree for producing solid, trustworthy research that other people are able to successfully replicate and then extend….More full disclosure of experimental methods can help, too.”
It adds: “Recognize that no single study ever proves anything. Without replication, all results should be taken as preliminary.”
And finally: “Here, both science and the media are complicit; there is a tendency to trumpet every new finding as if it proved something, but most new studies are merely evidence toward a conclusion, not the conclusion itself. Everyone—from the public, to the media, to Congress, to the scientists themselves—needs to be more patient.”