Do You Know The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, & Disinfecting?
Though these words are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Cleaning removes visible soil from a surface, however it does not eliminate illness causing micro-organisms that the eye cannot see. Sanitizing eliminates surface bacteria to help ensure that very low levels of disease causing bacteria are left on surfaces, but it does not necessarily inactivate fungi or viruses. Disinfecting has the power to eliminate bacteria and fungi as well as inactivate viruses at a much higher level than sanitizing. It is important to remember that you should always clean before sanitizing or disinfecting.
After cleaning, there may be organisms left on the surface, but the surface may have an acceptable level of hygiene for certain uses. The purpose of cleaning is mostly about soil removal with minute concentration on eliminating certain levels of organisms. Sanitizing is used when there is a higher level of concern about the cleanliness of a surface. For example, prior to sanitizing, if there were 1,000 bacteria on the surface, there would be much fewer post sanitizing. The same concept is applied for disinfecting but at a much higher rate. If there were 100,000 bacteria on a given surface, the numbers would be significantly lower after disinfecting.
Again, anytime there is visible soil on a surface, it is best to clean before disinfecting or sanitizing. When disinfecting a surface, you may use a disinfectant to clean, but it must be applied twice. The first dose is to clean the surface and the second will disinfect. We highly recommend cleaning the surface with cleaning solutions before applying disinfection solutions. Using a disinfectant that has been through a standardized test method allows you to clean and disinfect in one step when there is no visible soil on the surface and if the product label advises it. Always check the label to confirm if it is a one-step product AND if it is the right disinfection solution for your need.
Best practices for product selection and usage
When choosing a disinfectant, here are a number of features to consider:
- Check that the product is approved for the pathogens of concern. For COVID-19, the disinfectant needs to be able to inactivate SARS-CoV-2. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regularly updates List N, which highlights disinfectants the agency expects to kill SARS-CoV-2 when used according to the label directions.
- Select a one-step disinfectant with a shorter contact time—preferably five minutes or less. Cleaning and disinfecting in one step will accomplish your goal without sacrificing performance and a short contact time helps ensure the product is used in compliance.
- Look for a product range that offers solutions in wipe, concentrate, and ready-to-use formats to meet a variety of needs. Not all product forms are appropriate for all situations. Having flexibility in how the product is applied is important.
- The best products are gentle on skin and surfaces while tough on pathogens. Look for products with accelerated hydrogen peroxide that offer high efficacy and low toxicity.
- Once you’ve selected products, conduct training to avoid common cleaning and disinfecting mistakes. For example, skipping the pre-cleaning phase when there is gross soil or ignoring the disinfectant contact time will impact efficacy. Mandate that employees follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep surfaces wet for the full duration of the contact time
- Failing to wipe the surface is another common mistake. The cleaning process selected should include physical wiping of surfaces.
- Consider supplying staff with microfiber or cotton cloths, or disposable wipes, as disinfectants can bind with certain materials. Be sure to train employees to follow proper cleaning procedures to avoid cross contamination or equipment and surface damage.
- If you choose to use electrostatic sprayers, select one tested for use with your disinfectant so you know it is safe for workers and will perform as expected.
- Different types of unit such as handheld, backpack, and cart-based, are appropriate for different sized areas. Determine whether the spray is air-assisted, which allows spraying from longer distances, and the grounding implications. Corded systems are self-grounding while battery systems ground through the workers, which can be affected by their shoes and the flooring surface. Review the nozzle design, which can impact the volume of liquid delivered and the spray pattern.
Cleaning in a New World
You should also understand the charge distribution. Higher charged droplets are capable of covering larger areas. Additionally, some Electrostatic Sprayer units can disable the electrostatic function, allowing the sprayer to be used as a more traditional sprayer. This typically allows for higher volumes of liquid to be used in larger areas. Lastly, train staff on disinfecting procedures, including applying the proper thickness of product and wiping surfaces to maintain efficacy. Employees need to know how to properly clean, sanitize, and disinfect surfaces, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. When in the market for disinfectants, Building Service Contractors and facility managers should pick a product that is fast-acting, effective, and less likely to cause irritation and surface damage.