Learning Tips & Life Lessons From 'The Germ Girl'
Tricia Holderman never planned to become the “Germ Girl” or “Germinator.” But her natural meticulousness and an onset of health issues in her early 20s fueled her interest in cleanliness. She’s come a long way since her first summer job as a house cleaner — she’s the CEO of Elite Facility Systems, which has managed infection prevention for major hospitals, NFL and NBA teams, luxury homes, and more. Holderman is based in Dallas, with Elite Facility Systems branches in both Texas and Virginia.
Holderman is a Girl Scout alum, and holds a Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention (CMIP) from the Association for the HealthCare Environment (AHE). She has 43 years of cleaning services industry experience under her belt, and has served as a member of Procter and Gamble’s advisory board for commercial products. She also provides speaking and consultation services to organizations across the country.
The pandemic has heightened public awareness of the cleaning profession and effective sanitization. In late 2021, Holderman published a timely book entitled Germinator: The Germ Girl's Guide To Simple Solutions In A Germ-Filled World. It breaks down her years of cleaning and germ fighting experience into accessible, actionable advice.
We spoke to Holderman about her entry into the cleaning profession, what she’s learned along the way, essential home cleaning tips, and why her work is “wonderfully fulfilling.”
CA: How did your time in the hospital lead you to zero in on stopping the spread of germs?
TH: While I was in the hospital for Crohn’s disease for the better part of three years, I had several infections. I knew my immune system was weak, and I realized the environment I was in should and could be cleaner. I had owned a cleaning company for six years, and I had nothing better to do while I was hospitalized than focus on cleaning.
I discussed my concerns with hospital staff, which resulted in invitations to meet with several committees at the hospital. Those meetings resulted in corrective measures. They did not see things from the patient viewpoint.
The staff at hospitals are focused on patient care, and don’t always notice odd things like cobwebs, the bottom of the over-the-bed tray table, or bed rails that seemed to be touched by everyone. I knew that I could help not only help with cleanliness, but I could supply the unique perspective of the patient's viewpoint. When I went back to work after many surgeries, I concentrated on cleaning for safety and health. Today, patient point of view and patient scores are part of the reimbursements process for hospitals.
CA: The pandemic has heightened public awareness of cleaning and cleaning services. How has this affected your work?
TH: The greatest change to our business was adding clients from different industries that we had not served before the pandemic. Some of our new clients include professional sports teams, charter airlines, voting locations, and arenas, to name a few. We have spent most of the time educating companies and individuals about correct cleaning and disinfecting methods, and educating them about how germs are spread. If people know how germs are spread, we can break the chain of infection.
There are different chemicals and processes we would use for NFL/NBA locker rooms than we would use for, say, a church daycare. Imagine the difference in high-volume touch areas between a 7-foot basketball player and a 3-year-old toddler. Each client's cleaning regimen is different and unique to them. This heightened public awareness has created a new focus on creating healthy environments, but unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Many advertisers don’t distinguish between a bacterium and a virus. Ineffective home remedies are all over the internet. The overuse of bleach as a catchall cleaner is potentially dangerous. Thankfully, basic cleaning education can assure a healthy and safe environment.
CA: What is one essential home cleaning tip you can offer our readers as the pandemic persists?
TH: Hand hygiene is still the most important transmission prevention of any germ. You can’t wash your hands too much. Also, remember that not all disinfectants work the same. Some have a 10-minute dwell time, meaning they need 10 minutes of wet time to kill all the germs listed on the label, while others only need 30 seconds. I always keep the lids closed on dispensing devices to avoid losing efficacy of the product. Some disinfecting wipes lose up to 25% efficacy every hour when exposed to air and light.
You must be sure to read the label on any chemical you use. We analyzed a client's cleaning regimen and discovered they were using a bathroom bowl cleaner to disinfect counters and work areas. It worked about as well as you can imagine. Unfortunately, these are not isolated occurrences. There is a lot of misinformation out there, so do your research
In addition to hand hygiene, another important tip is to make sure you are regularly cleaning what we call high touch surfaces. Those include but are not limited to light switches, door knobs, counter tops, and TV remotes. Look around your house — I’m sure you will find many more.
CA: Please tell us a story about one of your greatest accomplishments or most meaningful jobs as a cleaning industry professional.
TH: You have to make yourself heard. I questioned everything after I got out of the hospital. At the age of 33, I was asked by Proctor and Gamble, maker of my friend Mr. Clean, to be on their advisory board. This was a select group of people who evaluated products and suggested needed cleaning products. It was an eye-opening experience to learn the length of time it takes to develop and get Environmental Protection Agency approval can literally be years.
Another one of my most interesting and successful ventures is working with professional football and basketball teams for the last several years. We do all of their infection prevention: sanitizing the locker room, exercise equipment, weights, whirlpools, offices, and the like. We are very proud to say that not one incident of an infection was traced back to our meticulous cleaning and disinfecting.
I have also created infection prevention protocols for my fellow chemo infusion friends, helping them stay safe with an impaired immune system. These notes became the book The Germinator last fall.
CA: How do you use your skills as a cleaning professional to give back to your community?
TH: I have been involved in several organizations that assist at-risk clients. I have taught cleaning classes for independent living apartments for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. My classes covered general cleaning, teaching what chemicals are used in which area of the home, and safe laundry techniques. I also taught them how to protect themselves when out in the community. I gave back by cleaning the apartments of those who cannot physically or mentally maintain a clean and healthy environment. I have appeared on numerous television programs to reinforce the importance of using proper techniques to clean and disinfect. Again, cleaning and disinfecting are separate processes; you don’t want to be disinfecting bio-load, AKA dirt.
At Austin Street Center, facilities that assist homeless adults, I have taught classes on cleaning and getting into the cleaning industry. I have also trained women on how to clean the new women’s facility and create a cleaning schedule. At the height of the pandemic, I rearranged the sleeping quarters of homeless clients to reduce their exposure to COVID-19. We also used our ionic sprayer to completely disinfect the building. I am fortunate to have a terrific client base who donates clothing, furniture, books, and more so that we can assist those in need.
CA: How are you proud to give to your community in your personal life?
TH: I believe in community service and giving back. I ran for state representative on a small business platform and have been involved legislatively for many candidates and causes. I testified in a committee on child labor laws in the 80s, and recently on a restroom access bill for those in need – including pregnant women and those with health issues such as Crohn’s or prostate problems. I have also volunteered for Junior Achievement to discuss life skills in classrooms.
I have served on national and local boards of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I have been a Sunday school class president. I have been on many mission trips to build homes in Mexico, and have met with hospitals, schools, and shelters in several countries. The preservation of historic buildings is important to me as well, and I have received related recognition from the Dallas Historical Society.
CA: What advice would you give to someone considering a career in your industry?
TH: Join us. It is an exciting time to be in this industry. There are many facets to it. Technology is changing rapidly, and new additions to the cleaning arsenal are amazing. Ultraviolet light, ionic spraying, rapid disinfectants, and numerous computer programs to track your progress have propelled infection prevention into the 21st century.
Cleaning personnel are considered essential personnel by the government in times of inclement weather or pandemic conditions. Many vendor companies value insights from the end users to make the product or chemical better. Even though cleaning companies have been around for a while, the aspect of facility infection prevention is practically a new venture or trade. There is no current degree program for Facility Infection Prevention, but certification is available. The feeling of protecting the public is wonderfully fulfilling.