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What is APPA?

The APPA Cleaning Standards

Over the past few years we’ve noticed the APPA Cleaning Standards are being used and/or referenced commonly when it comes to Janitorial and Commercial Cleaning Tenders and RFPs. Based on how often we see it, you can almost say it has become the standard for measurement for evaluating the performance of commercial cleaning companies.


From an objectivity and consistency perspective it makes sense for the industry to default to one consensus standard.

  • Levels the playing field
  • Easier to keep track of data over time
  • Easier to compare performance between cleaning companies


Because this has become the go to standard of measurement, we thought it would be useful to do a deeper dive on the APPA Cleaning Standards.

So, what is APPA?

According to their website, “APPA is the gathering place for educational facilities professionals, dedicated to the ongoing evolution of the profession.” APPA was formerly known as the Association of Superintendents of Buildings and Grounds, and later became known as the Association of Physical Plant Administrators. What started as a small organization of 14 Midwestern higher education institutions, has grown into 1,200 learning institutions worldwide with over 17,000 educational facility professionals.

What’s the purpose of the APPA Cleaning Standard?

The standards were created collaboratively by industry professionals to provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating cleanliness and maintenance in facilities.

The APPA Cleaning Standards are a widely used system for evaluating and benchmarking the cleanliness of facilities, primarily in educational and institutional settings. It assesses cleanliness based on five levels: Orderly Spotlessness, Ordinary Tidiness, Casual Inattention, Moderate Dinginess, and Unkempt Neglect. Each level has specific criteria for cleanliness, and facilities are scored accordingly. It's a helpful tool for maintaining and improving cleanliness standards in various environments.

What are the five levels of the APPA Cleaning Standard?

Level 1 Orderly Spotlessness (highest level)

  • Floors and baseboard molding shine and/or are bright and clean; colours are fresh. There is no build-up in corners or along walls.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have a freshly cleaned or polished appearance and have no accumulation of dust, dirt, marks, streaks, smudges, or fingerprints.
  • Washroom and shower fixtures and tile gleam and are odor-free. Supplies are adequate. 
  • Waste containers only hold daily waste, are clean and odor free.

Level 2 Ordinary Tidiness

  • Floors and baseboard molding shine and/or are bright and clean. There is no build-up in corners or along walls, but there can be up to two days worth of dust, dirt, stains, or streaks.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces are clean, but marks, dust, smudges, and fingerprints are noticeable upon close observation.
  • Washroom and shower fixtures and tile gleam and are odor-free. Supplies are adequate. 
  • Waste containers hold only daily waste, are clean and odor-free.

Level 3 Casual Inattention

  • Floors are swept or vacuumed clean, but upon close observation there can be stains. A build-up of dirt and/or floor finish in corners and along walls can be seen.
  • There are dull spots and/or matted carpet in walking lanes. There are streaks or splashes on baseboard molding.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have obvious dust, dirt, marks, smudges, and fingerprints.
  • Waste containers hold only daily waste, are clean and odor-free.

Level 4 Moderate Dinginess

  • Floors are swept or vacuumed clean, but are dull, dingy, and stained. There is noticeable build-up or dirt and/or floor finish in corners and along walls.
  • There is a dull path and/or obviously matted carpet in walking lanes. Base molding is dull and dingy with steaks or splashes.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have conspicuous dust, dirt, smudges, fingerprints, and marks.
  • Light fixtures are dirty. 
  • Waste containers have old trash. They are stained and marked. Waste containers smell sour.

Level 5 Unkempt Neglect (lowest level)

  • Floors and carpets are dull, dirty, dingy, scuffed, and/or matted. There is conspicuous build-up of old dirt and/or floor finish in corners and along walls. Baseboard molding is dirty, stained, and streaked. Gum, stains, dirt, dust balls, and waste are broadcast.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces have major accumulations of dust, dirt, smudges, and fingerprints, all of which will be difficult to remove. Lack of attention is obvious.
  • Light fixtures are dirty with dust balls and flies. 
  • Waste containers are overflowing. They are stained and marked. Waste containers smell sour.

What are the benefits of using the APPA Cleaning Standard?

Using the APPA Cleaning Standards offers several benefits:

  1. Standardization: Provides a consistent and uniform framework for evaluating cleanliness across different facilities, allowing for fair comparisons and benchmarking.
  2. Clear Criteria: Defines specific cleanliness levels and criteria, making it easier to communicate expectations to cleaning staff, contractors, and stakeholders.
  3. Targeted Cleaning Strategies: Identifies areas for improvement and allows facilities to develop targeted cleaning strategies to address specific cleanliness levels.

What are the downsides to APPA?

While the APPA Cleaning Standards offer numerous benefits, there are also potential downsides to consider:

  1. Resource Intensive: Implementing the APPA standards requires resources for training staff, conducting assessments, and maintaining documentation, which could be burdensome for some organizations, particularly smaller ones with limited resources.
  2. Limited Scope: The standards may not cover all aspects of cleanliness or address specific needs of certain facilities or industries, potentially leading to gaps in evaluation or areas where additional standards are needed.
  3. Cost Considerations: While optimizing cleaning efforts can lead to cost savings in the long run, initially implementing the standards and improving cleanliness levels may require upfront investments in equipment, training, and personnel.
  4. Subjectivity: Despite efforts to define clear criteria, assessing cleanliness levels can still involve subjective judgments, leading to variations in interpretation and scoring between different assessors or facilities.

Who should use APPA?

Overall, while the APPA Cleaning Standards provide a valuable framework for evaluating cleanliness and improving facilities management practices, they may not be suitable for every organization or situation, and careful consideration of potential challenges is necessary before implementation.

Ultimately, any organization that values cleanliness, consistency, and the well-being of occupants can benefit from implementing the APPA Cleaning Standards. It provides a structured framework for evaluating cleanliness levels, identifying areas for improvement, and maintaining high standards of cleanliness and maintenance in facilities.

If APPA is meant for Educational Facilities, why is it used for commercial properties?

Good question. We’re not really sure how it made its way out of the educational world and into other sectors. One possibility is that the standard is worded in a way that it can essentially apply to any type of commercial real estate. Most scopes of work in the CRE world are similar. Where the APPA Cleaning Standard would run into challenges would be places like; manufacturing and industrials, clean rooms, and food and beverage production. Essentially property types that require specialized or certified cleaning services.

How to implement APPA:

Implementing the APPA Cleaning Standards involves several key steps:

  1. Familiarize Yourself with the Standards: Review the APPA Cleaning Standards documentation to understand the five levels of cleanliness and the specific criteria for each level.
  2. Assessment and Baseline Establishment: Conduct an initial assessment of your facility's cleanliness to establish a baseline. This involves evaluating various areas and determining the current cleanliness level according to the APPA standards.
  3. Develop Cleaning Protocols: Based on the assessment, develop cleaning protocols and procedures (i.e. scopes of work and schedules) tailored to meet the criteria for each cleanliness level. Ensure that cleaning staff are trained and equipped to implement these protocols effectively.
  4. Regular Monitoring and Evaluation: Implement a system for regular monitoring and evaluation of cleanliness levels in your facility. This may involve conducting periodic assessments, using checklists, or utilizing technology for real-time monitoring.
  5. Documentation and Reporting: Maintain documentation of cleaning activities, assessment results, and any corrective actions taken. Report on cleanliness levels and progress towards meeting cleanliness goals to relevant stakeholders.
  6. Continuous Improvement: Use assessment data and feedback to identify areas for improvement and adjust cleaning protocols and procedures as needed. Aim for continuous improvement in cleanliness standards over time.
  7. Training and Education: Provide ongoing training and education for cleaning staff on the importance of cleanliness standards, proper cleaning techniques, and the specific criteria outlined in the APPA standards.

By following these steps, organizations can effectively implement the APPA Cleaning Standards and maintain high levels of cleanliness in their facilities.

Should I use the APPA Cleaning Standard?

Ultimately, that is for you to decide. Only you know what’s best for your company, facility, and/or cleaning teams. In our experience, the majority of RFPs and Tenders that we participate in today are using or at the very least referencing the APPA Cleaning Standard as it relates to their Quality Assurance Process Evaluation. While we can’t tell you how to run your cleaning operations, we would think it would be beneficial for all commercial cleaning companies to be adhering to the same cleaning standards. This ensures an even playing field, better service for customers, and a transparent operation.

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