Disinfecting is an important step of any cleaning routine especially during Flu Season. There are different types of disinfectants as well as different methods for disinfecting. We’ll get to those later, because no matter your disinfectant method the first step is to clean.
What’s the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?
Cleaning refers to the removal of dirt and grime from a surface. With cleaning tools such as sponges or cloths, cleaning simply moves germs and bacteria around a surface or from one surface to another. Disinfecting refers to the killing of a high percentage of germs and/or rendering them incapable of reproducing.
Therefore, a surface can look clean and still be covered in dangerous bacteria. However, cleaning is still an important step to properly disinfecting a surface. Prior to disinfecting, a person should remove all visible soils from the area they wish to disinfect. Skipping this could affect the success of disinfection because the organic matter on a surface can interfere with microbial inactivation.
There are many disinfectant cleaners on the market today that have the cleaning abilities you need along with being a disinfectant. Essentially you are getting two products in one (great!). However, that does not equate to cleaning and disinfecting being done in one step necessarily. Instructions may vary, but for most disinfectant cleaners the user will need to use a technique the industry refers to as spray-wipe-spray. Meaning if a surface is visibly soiled, you would want to spray the disinfectant cleaner, wipe away the soil and then spray again and follow disinfecting instructions and dwell times listed on the label.
What is dwell time?
Dwell time, also known as contact time, is the amount of time that a surface must remain wet in order for the disinfectant to kill certain organisms. Dwell times can be as short as one minute to as long as ten, and should be followed precisely to avoid outbreaks of disease. All dwell times should be listed on the product label.
Does disinfecting make a surface sterile?
No. Disinfection destroys and reduces most pathogens, but cannot create a sterile environment. According the Center for Disease Control (CDC), sterilization destroys all microorganisms, including substantial numbers of resistant bacterial spores, by heat (steam autoclave, dry heat, and unsaturated chemical vapor) or liquid chemical sterilants. This type of decontamination is only necessary in critical times such as surgeries or laboratory work whereas disinfecting is much more practical for everyday life.
After sterilization, there are three different levels of disinfection – high, intermediate and low. High-level disinfectants kill all organisms, except high levels of bacterial spores. These types of disinfectants have been effected with a chemical germicide that has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be marketed as a sterilant. Intermediate-level disinfectants are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have a tuberculocidal claim and kill mycobacteria, most viruses and bacteria. A low-level disinfectant has no tuberculocidal claim and kills some viruses and bacteria with a chemical germicide registered as a hospital disinfectant by the EPA.
When would you want to choose a disinfectant with a tuberculocidal claim?
Since tuberculosis is not transmitted by contaminated surfaces, you might be wondering why that would matter. The CDC says that Mycobacterium tuberculosis has one of the highest levels of resistance of all microorganisms. Therefore it is used to measure how well a product can kill other germs of a lower resistance. If a disinfectant has a tuberculocidal claim, it is then considered capable of killing a broad spectrum of pathogens. These include less resistant ones such as Bloodborne pathogens (HIV and hepatitis B & C).
Are pre-saturated wipes as effective as liquid disinfectants?
Well, it depends. Let’s start with the benefits of disinfectant wipes:
Can I use one wipe on multiple surfaces?
Though it would seem cost-efficient to do so, we recommend using one wipe per surface in order to avoid cross-contamination. The same goes for towels/microfibers used with liquid disinfectants. Check out this handout on Extending the Use of a Microfiber Cloth that can be applied to different cleaning tasks.
Have any questions?
No matter what type of disinfectant you are using, it is always important to follow instructions and to read the label carefully before use. The label has everything you need to know including dwell time and personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations as well as safety numbers to call should an accident happen. We are also here to be a resource for you! Drop us a comment if you have any questions or give us a call at 1.800.589.ALCO. Browse ALCO Disinfectants here.