We will get through the current pandemic. Going forward, however, we can expect significant changes in our post-COVID-19 world. For example, how will we view effective cleaning procedures going forward, and particularly in our schools, offices and retail environments?
Part of the answer lies in a greater understanding of what terms like “clean” and “disinfect” actually mean, and then making sure that the retail and commercial cleaning service providers we use offer the most effective solutions or options for our facilities and the people we serve.
Right now, we’re battling the COVID-19 virus, but what about future outbreaks? While we needn’t live in fear, we need to be prepared and learn the most effective and safest way to eliminate germs that threaten our health.
Let’s first look at the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing.
What is cleaning?
Cleaning works to physically remove germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects by using soap (or detergent) and water. Proper cleaning lowers the number of germs and lowers the risk of spreading infection. Cleaning on its own, however, doesn’t necessarily kill the germs.
What is disinfecting?
Disinfecting works by using a chemical solution to kill or inactivate germs on surfaces or objects. To work effectively, most disinfectants need to stay on the surface for 10 minutes. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs from an entire area. Killing germs on a surface, however, is the best way to lower the risk of spreading infection. Disinfectants are commonly applied to floors, walls, toilets, desks, sinks, showers, chairs, ceilings, etc.
You might wonder, why not just use disinfectants? Disinfectants contain strong chemicals which can be harmful to people, like bleach for example. This means that most disinfectants can’t be used on porous food preparation surfaces, or objects like toys that a child might put in their mouth. Many also have to be used in well-ventilated areas.
A list of what a particular disinfectant kills appears on the product’s label. It should be noted that disinfectants don’t kill all microorganisms, so you have to know your product and what you are dealing with.
What is sanitizing?
Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as determined by public health standards or requirements. Sanitizing works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects, and it works immediately.
Sanitizing is effective 99.9% of the time, so it lowers the risk of spreading infection. It’s also safe to use on surfaces that come in contact with food. For example, you sanitize dishes and utensils, and at a school or daycare, you would sanitize toys that children put in their mouths.
What is sterilization?
Sterilization is the same as sanitizing, except sterilization removes 100% of microorganisms. The process for sterilization, which subjects objects to high heat and/or harsh chemicals, does not make this a practical solution for many applications. You can sterilize metal utensils used for eating, but you can’t sterilize plastic toys, door handles or computer keyboards for example.
So what is the best way to clean and disinfect high touch areas?
Schools are a good example of a facility that requires cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing. In a school, there are many areas that are considered “high touch”. The term speaks for itself and includes objects such as desks, drinking fountains, computer keyboards, doorknobs, faucet handles, hands-on learning items and toys.
Schools require daily cleaning. Areas such as a cafeteria or kitchen, where food is served, stored and prepared require routine sanitizing. Before students return to school after the COVID-19 pandemic, parents, teachers and the community should expect that all such facilities have undergone a thorough cleaning, with both disinfecting and sanitizing.
How to clean and disinfect thoroughly and properly
Germs can be bacteria, fungi or viruses; each behave differently. Viruses generally don’t remain active on surfaces for very long. They look for a host (like a human), otherwise, they can’t function. Bacteria, however, can live and reproduce independently. Some can survive on surfaces for a long time, feeding off dirt and food (it’s why certain bacteria causes food poisoning).
The purpose of thorough cleaning is to kill germs on high touch areas—not just make everything look better! But as you can tell from the above, some germs stay longer on some surfaces than others, and not all germs react the same way to all cleaning products. In addition, cleaning methods using disinfectants are great at killing germs, but can be harmful to human beings if not used properly.
It’s essential to match your cleaning and disinfecting activities to the types of germs you want to remove or kill. This typically means using the right combination of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. For proper and thorough cleaning on high touch areas, a cleaning product is used first. Then the surface is either sanitized or disinfected as appropriate.
Use Cleaning and Disinfecting Products As Intended
Germ killing “weapons”—the cleaning and disinfecting products used have to be chosen carefully, and used according to specific government regulations for health and safety. For instance, a wrong product combination can react to form a toxic gas, and cause subsequent negative health effects.
Employers at commercial cleaning companies are obligated by law to ensure workers are trained on the hazards of cleaning chemicals used in the workplace in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standards.
The above standards regulate processes such as proper dilution instructions, and indicates what personal protective equipment such as gloves and goggles must be worn with what product and equipment. Regulations also include the proper disposal of regulated waste.
Products that claim to kill particular kinds of microorganisms have to be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In turn, once a particular strain of bacteria or virus is identified, the EPA lists products that are effective at eradicating the particular germs, with specific instructions for safe use, contact time, surface type, use dilution, labeling requirements, etc. See a SARS-CoV-2 specific sample here.
Understand what kind of germs you want to eliminate
There is science behind proper cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. As new strains of illnesses are discovered, scientific and medical experts recommend what is going to work best, depending on the circumstance. Current evidence, for example, suggests that COVID-19 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. The best practice measure, therefore, for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in community settings requires the cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection.
How Hiring Kleenway Can Help During this Pandemic and After the Pandemic is Over
At Kleenway, we are continually looking for the latest cleaning technologies and we also ensure we use EPA-registered disinfectants. We keep on top of new products as well as threats from different and new kinds of germs so we can equip our cleaning teams with the right knowledge and tools.
“You often hear the term ‘deep cleaning’,” says Bill Germanis, President of Kleenway, “Remember, deep cleaning is not a scientific term. At Kleenway, we rely on information which is scientifically proven and medically backed for how and when we recommend cleaning, disinfecting and/or sanitizing at your school, office, plant or retail facility. This is the case during the current pandemic, it is also how we have operated for all cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting services over the past four decades.”