COVID-19 Dormitory Cleaning: Tips And University Insights

As colleges and universities around the country prepare for a new semester, it is crucial that students (and their families) feel confident that the campus is safe, hygienic, and properly prepared for their return. With different states and universities following separate protocols and laws about how to best protect yourself against COVID-19, it can be difficult to know which guidance your own institution(s) should follow.

This post provides recommendations and insight from administrators and operators of student housing facilities to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 through proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures on campus.

COVID-19: Preparation For Cleaning And Disinfecting

To generally prepare against COVID-19 and maintain a hygienic campus, the custodial team must clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are frequently touched (e.g., door handles, light switches, laboratory sink handles, counters) each day. With an appropriate cleaning chemical, wipe down commonly-touched objects (e.g., chairs, tables) and equipment before use. After cleaning, it’s important to use an EPA-certified disinfectant from List-N to further protect against the COVID-19 virus.

“Dartmouth has always used a cleaner / disinfectant that was on the N-list,” said Sandra Sowle, Custodial Services Manager at Dartmouth College in a recent interview with Core America. To protect students and staff from transmitting COVID-19 while living or working on campus, she helped Dartmouth implement a few preventative strategies near the beginning of the pandemic. One strategy was for Dartmouth to move some custodial team members to be dedicated disinfectors, beyond their typical custodial duties. The college really made a point to create a whole shift of staff just for the disinfection protocol for all academic and residential buildings so that students were guaranteed safety measures beyond what’s expected from normal dormitory cleaning services.

“We actually had a COVID-19 custodial services training program that we used specifically for COVID-19,” Sowle said. “We did not mix regular residence halls with COVID-19. We pulled out buildings that we put isolated students in, and the rest of the students lived in the other residence halls. The [COVID-19] custodians were called first-custodial responders. I was in charge of [directing] the program to clean the quarantine and isolation buildings.”

Dartmouth College also incorporates a “room readiness” sheet on every dormitory room to check off that the room is prepared for cleaning. It’s a quick way to inspect a room so that staff can disinfect the area, ensuring it was as safe and clean as they can get it for the next student.

To get a clearer understanding of the difference between cleaning and disinfecting dorms, let’s take a closer look at the specifics:


Cleaning removes the majority of germs, debris, and dirt from dormitory surfaces and objects. Cleaning is usually defined by applying soap and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process doesn’t guarantee that all germs will be killed, but it substantially lowers how many there are and the risk of spreading infection. SARS-CoV-2 in particular, the virus that transmits COVID-19, can be physically broken down by surfactants contained in all EPA-approved cleaning agents.


Disinfecting kills (or neutralizes) germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill or inactivate pathogens on surfaces or objects. While this process does not guarantee that a surface is clean or that germs were removed, eliminating the remaining germs on a surface after it has been cleaned can further lower the chance of spreading infection.

Tools For Cleaning And Disinfecting

Most colleges and universities will have trained staff for coordinating campus-wide COVID-19 cleaning initiatives, or they may hire a professional cleaning company to disinfect dorms prior to move-in day. Regardless of whether cleaning staff is based on campus or working independently, the cleaning experts will usually stock the best needed supplies available for keeping dorm spaces hygienic and disinfected. Some of these tools are even available from common stores and can be kept in bulk for preparedness against COVID-19 surges, such as with the Delta variant:

  • Paper towels
  • Masks
  • Broom/Mop
  • Dusting clothes
  • Gloves
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Sponges
  • Disinfectant Wipes

Summer Cleaning V.S. Bi-Semester Cleaning

To help applicants determine their place of study, college campuses frequently provide sports camps and pre-college groups temporary housing in the summer. While a normal school year has a very short window when college seniors graduate, they almost always schedule on Memorial Day weekend, which helps better plan the necessary cleaning.

Summer cleaning teams try to identify the worst spots before summer camps visit, knowing they’re not going to have much time before upperclassmen move in again for the Fall semester. Weather, in addition to time, is against them too, so they have to prioritize which cleaning projects should happen based on the activities of the camps attending.

For instance, they may choose to hold off on a normal carpet cleaning project in order to make more time for stripping the finish off a heavily-used basement floor in order to reapply a new one for health purposes. Such wouldn’t necessarily be needed before the COVID-19 crises but is now a tested way to reduce transmission in shared housing contexts.


More generally, being able to adapt to the growing demand for more transparency between university cleaning staff, students, and parents has been fundamental for keeping rapport high and ensuring safety on campuses across the country. And it’s likely beneficial that many parents’ expectations about cleanliness and hygiene are high, because when they do ask for data, prepared college and university cleaning teams can more easily show how they’ve asked themselves those questions and helped answer them too.

For more information on keeping your collegiate institution or business hygienic and safe from COVID-19, check out our other posts about the topic.