You’re Doing It Wrong: Three Steps to Disinfect Properly
America is in a frenzy. Ever since this article in the New York Times revealed that common methods to clean household sponges only makes them dirtier, people can’t stop fretting. Of course, cleaning professionals know that it takes more than a cycle in the dishwasher or a turn in the microwave to effectively get rid of germs.
But do we really know how to disinfect properly?
The stakes for getting it wrong are high, especially with the new school year starting. Microbe-infested surfaces can spread influenza, gastrointestinal illness and more. Follow these three steps to keep your facilities clean and clients safe.
1. CLEAN FIRST
A product that claims to “clean and disinfect” may sound like good idea, but be wary. While everyone wants to cut down on cleaning chemicals and speed up cleaning time, there are no short-cuts to disinfecting a surface. “Germs can hide underneath dirt and other material on surfaces where they are not affected by the disinfectant,” according to the EPA. And it gets worse. “Dirt and organic material can also reduce the germ-killing ability of some disinfectants.”
So, clean first. The EPA recommends using an all-purpose detergent, microfiber cloths and a scrubbing motion to remove visible dirt, dust, oils and germs. They do not recommend using cotton cloths, mops or sponges.
2. READ UP AND SLOW DOWN
There are many types of disinfectants from chlorine to alcohols to quaternary ammonium compounds or QUATS. All are registered with the EPA and identified with a number. They have verifiable kill claims on their label along with explicit instructions on their use.
Read these instructions and instruct your staff to read them too.
Simply spraying and wiping will not get the desired effect. Most disinfectants require dwell time, often up to 10 minutes, to effectively kill microbes. This means the product must remain on the surface for the appropriate time without drying. If a treated surface is dry, it must be re-treated. Better yet, keep the surface visibly wet for the entire recommended dwell time. Then follow instructions for rinsing and drying.
3. LESS IS MORE—REALLY
For all of the public health good they do, disinfectants have a dark side too. Bleach irritates skin and eyes. QUATS have been linked to asthma and other autoimmune deficiency problems. Use too much on your floors and they will be sticky and discolored.
Avoid over-disinfecting by using the correct amount of chemical and focus on touchpoints like flush levers, faucets and soap dispensers in restrooms and light switches, door knobs and handrails everywhere else.
Click here for more tips on how to disinfect properly.
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Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.