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Cleaning vs. disinfecting services: How to tell the difference

Claire Rosenzweig of the Better Business Bureau offers

Claire Rosenzweig of the Better Business Bureau offers tips on investigating service providers. Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

The Department of Justice  recently announced the disruption of hundreds of scams related to the new coronavirus, including phony charities, promises of tests, fraudulent government websites, and business websites containing malware.

"After any disaster, natural or manmade," said Claire Rosenzweig, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan NY, "there are always going to be scammers out there."

The pitches can come from many directions, including social media, unsolicited emails and texts: "You have to be wary," she said. 

Sometimes even good intentions can be bad business. For example, some established disinfection services caution that similar businesses that have sprung up in response to the pandemic may make big safety promises, but may not have the equipment or knowledge to deliver.

“It’s like the Wild West, but instead of carrying six-shooters, they’re walking around with spray guns,” said Eric Bliss, cofounder of Aqueous Solutions, which has disinfected JFK Airport for 10 years. “I remember [superstorm] Sandy … guys were coming around [saying], 'We sprayed for mold,' and they did nothing. They only did more harm because it gave [people] a false sense that they were protected.”

There are ways to protect yourself, Rosenzweig said, including going with companies that are “well-known [and] have that track record with consumers to deliver."

Other ways to check: Look for OSHA certification, the business' BBB profile, and check with the state to see if the company is registered. Look for a physical address, Rosenzweig said, and do a Google satellite search to make sure a building exists. If going through a website, see when the site was established -- a website that was put up only a few weeks ago may be suspect, she said. Get everything in writing, make sure that staff is trained, and that workers are using the proper safety equipment for the job, she said.

It’s also imperative to ask about the disinfectant being used and to ensure it's being used correctly, said Eric Malament, principal at Roslyn’s Summit Facility Solutions. It should be on the EPA list of disinfectants effective against SARS-Cov-2, found at nwsdy.li/disinfect. Companies also have to make sure they're leaving the disinfectant on the surface for long enough (guidelines can be found on the EPA website) and not over-diluting the product to the point where it's not disinfecting, just sanitizing. The first eliminates pathogens, while the second reduces their number.  

“Don’t leave it to a cleaning company to be a disinfecting company,” Bliss said. “With cleaning, you could go desk to desk with the same rag. If you have a pathogen on one of those desks, you pretty much contaminate the entire office. … Cleaning and disinfecting have to go hand in hand."

All agreed that one of the biggest things to look for is transparency.

“Some, I think, are just capitalizing on the fact that they acquired equipment, and they believe there’s a market for them to make some money,” said Christopher Wukovitz, marketing director at the West Babylon-based Advanced Restoration Corp., in business for 26 years. “Are they doing it the right way?”

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