Sterile X

Brian Fernandez of Sterile X Labs sprays disinfectant at Dan Lew Exchange in Mansfield.

MANSFIELD -- As businesses in Ohio begin to reopen, professional cleaning services are seeing a surge in demand.

Bernie Fernandez can hardly go 10 minutes without getting a call. Fernandez, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” launched Sterile X Labs three weeks ago with his business partner Mark Wilging.

“We made the price point very affordable for people," Fernandez said. “We want to do this as a side business, as a service.” 

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Fernandez started a similar company in 2006 in response to the spread of avian influenza, but the majority of his business came from realtors in the Columbus area who needed to deodorize unkempt properties. He sold the business in 2009. 

“When this all started, I told Mark Wilging, 'I’d love to have it back right now with everything that’s going on. And it was just a passing thought,’” he recalled.

Four days later, Fernandez saw a news segment about a commercial cleaning company spraying disinfectant in Texas schools. He decided to take the plunge.

“We had over 50 clients our first week,” Fernandez said. “We went from four customers in like three days and then it blew up and we had 46 customers in the next 72 hours.”

The rush hasn’t stopped.

“I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll have five or six messages,” Fernandez said.

Sterile X Labs uses Maquat 64-NHQ, which is on the EPA’s list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The product is distributed via a fogger and sprayer.

“We look like ghostbusters,” Fernandez joked.

According to Fernandez, it also eliminates odors and removes and prevents mold. It has a neutral pH, is non corrosive and is safe to use in homes, kitchens, businesses and healthcare institutions.

Some of Sterile X Lab’s most frequent clients are restaurants, offices and churches.

“Everyone’s very conscious of what’s going on. They want to be proactive. Offices want to protect their employees and make them feel more comfortable,” Fernandez said. “That’s a big part of this, giving people peace of mind.”

Sterile X Labs isn’t the only company in town providing disinfecting services. Taylor Steamer uses a fogger to spray Bioesque, a botanical disinfectant.

According to operations manager Christina Mawhorr, the thymol-based cleaner kills the COVID-19 virus in four minutes.

“You can either apply it by hand and wipe it off or you can fog it,” Mawhorr said. “When you fog it, it attaches to every surface.”

Kristy Hatfield, president of The Clean Company, has researched disinfection methods for COVID-19 and doesn’t believe there’s an advantage to sprayers or foggers. She prefers wiping down surfaces by hand so she can be sure that every edge and angle has had contact with the disinfectant.

“We feel comfortable with the current services that we offer that we can eliminate (the virus) on hard surfaces,” she said.

Hatfield advised residents to be wary of price gouging when shopping for cleaning products. Many of the products on the EPA’s list are easily accessible for home use.

“They don’t have to be anything high in price or marked up or shipped or online. It can be from your local Sam’s Club, Home Depot,” she said.

Nevertheless, hiring a cleaning service is one way to ensure that a consistent cleaning regimen doesn’t fall through the cracks.

“We all know as business owners trying to wear multiple hats, things come up,” Hatfield said. “Having a dedicated cleaner come in is important, only because then it's consistent and it gets done.”

The CDC recently updated its guidelines, stating that the virus does not spread easily from touching surfaces or other objects.

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” its website read. “This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.”

The CDC still recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces on a regular basis as one of the best ways to protect against the spread of COVID-19.