According to the Centers for Disease Control, a thorough cleaning of sinks, toilets, doorknobs, and other hard, non-porous surfaces that people frequently touch is the first and most important step in preventing the spread of disease.
Even though a good cleaning removes many of the germs living on these surfaces, the ones left behind soon begin to grow and re-accumulate. Therefore, to be safe most housekeepers also use a disinfectant product to kill the bacteria and viruses that are present. It usually isn’t possible to kill everything, including spores. Doing so would require the use of a sterilizer (such as hospitals use for surgical equipment).
Disinfectant products work by oxidizing the germs, breaking down their cell walls, or otherwise deactivating them. A product like BioTech Medical’s SpectraSan 24™ actually destroys the DNA of the cells. Different ingredients or combinations of ingredients kill different germs. Therefore you either need to select a disinfectant that works on the specific germs you are trying to get rid of, or select a broad-spectrum product that works on all of the germs that you might encounter.
Oftentimes people get confused with microbiological terms and phases. There are primary differences between the various products that are on the market and used to kill a wide variety of microorganisms. Many of the terms seem interchangeable; however, it’s important to know the difference between an antimicrobial, a sanitizer, a disinfectant, and a sterilant chemical agent.
As an example, it’s alright to sanitize the table in a restaurant because your primary objective is to remove the soil and reduce the number of bacteria on the surface that is being cleaned and sanitized. On the other hand, it is essential to use a hospital grade disinfectant in a healthcare setting because the environmental surfaces within a hospital are exposed to more dangerous viruses and disease-causing pathogens. Furthermore, a hospital grade EPA Registered disinfectant has been clinically tested and approved to kill 99.999% of specific microorganisms and within a specific time.
How to Kill Germs
Disinfectant – An agent, such as heat or radiation, or a chemical that destroys, neutralizes, or inhibits the growth of disease-carrying microorganisms.
Sanitizer – An agent that reduces the number of bacterial contaminants to safe levels as judged by public health requirements. It is commonly used with substances that are applied to inanimate objects or surfaces.
Sterilize – Sterilization refers to any process that effectively kills or eliminates transmissible agents (such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, spore forms, etc.) from a surface, equipment, article of food or medication, or biological culture medium… Sterilization can be achieved through application of heat, chemicals, irradiation, high pressure or filtration. (SpectraSan 24 is not considered a chemical sterilant.)
Killing Germs with Chemicals
Antimicrobial – Any agent that kills or suppresses the growth of microorganisms. These are not EPA registered chemical agents because they are not required to list the claims of that of a disinfectant or registered sanitizer.
Antiseptic – A substance that prevents or arrests the growth or action of microorganisms, either by inhibiting or destroying them. Typically used as a topical treatment for wounds or living tissue.
Bactericidal – An agent that destroys bacteria.
Biocide – A substance that kills all living organisms, pathogenic and nonpathogenic.
Bacteriostat – An agent, usually chemical, that prevents the growth of bacteria, but does not necessarily destroy them.
Germicide – A germicide is an agent that destroys microorganisms, especially pathogenic organisms.
Fungicide – A fungicide is an agent that kills fungi.
Sporicide – An agent that destroys microbial spores, especially a chemical that kills bacterial spores. Because spores are more resistant than vegetative cells, a sporicide would be a sterilizing agent.
Virucide – An agent that inactivates viruses, especially a chemical substance on a living tissue.
EPA Registration Number – Found on products that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as pesticides (insecticides, sanitizers, disinfectants, and herbicides). Only registered EPA products are approved to make killing claims for specific microorganisms and disease causing viruses, and fungi. The EPA registration number must appear on the front label along with the contents of the product formulation. It is against the law to use the product in any manner or for any application that is not specifically written on the product label. If the product does not list a particular kill claim for a microorganism, then it is not approved to use on these types of bacterium.
How can you tell what germs a disinfectant product will kill? Check the container label or product fact sheets for an EPA Number. All commercially available disinfectants register their effectiveness claims with the EPA.
Some products may have a faster kill time, but in order to kill germs your disinfectant must stay wet on the surface for about 10 minutes. Because this time is longer than what most housekeeping situations allow, a thorough pre-cleaning of the surface is very important.
Regular Disinfection - So what should you do? Clean thoroughly. Use a mild, but effective disinfectant product, and use as little of it as possible. Always wear gloves and goggles to protect one’s self. When fogging, wear an appropriate mask or respirator.
It is usually enough to use an institutional grade disinfectant product for daily hard surface maintenance. In addition, milder sanitization grade products may be used on carpets or in toilet tanks where the goal is to reduce germs to a safe level (typically 0.1%), rather than completely eliminate them. Healthcare facilities should always use a hospital grade disinfectant.
Deep Disinfection - In some cases you may need to deeply disinfect a part of your facility (for example, areas with blood-borne pathogens). It is imperative to use hospital grade disinfectants in healthcare settings. Such products accomplish a more thorough job and kill a broader range of pathogens; however, they are generally more hazardous than institutional grade disinfectants and sanitizers. Always read the label.
Combined Cleaning & Disinfection - Some products, primarily those containing quaternary ammonium chlorides, may be used for both cleaning and disinfecting. These products work best upon surfaces that are already fairly clean, or when they are used twice in a row – once to clean, then once more to disinfect.
Protecting the Environment - Because of the potential health risks and impacts on the environment, it makes sense to minimize the amount of disinfectant that you use. There are four ways to accomplish this goal:
1. Select the right product. It is best to use a product that contains the specific EPA-registered ingredients needed to kill the germs found in your surroundings. Using the wrong disinfectant wastes your time and money, and doesn’t remove the germs.
2. Plan how often to disinfect. Evaluate the amount of traffic your facility gets and identify the surfaces that people touch most often. Use an ultraviolet light to reveal how soon germs reappear after cleaning, and then schedule your disinfection work accordingly. Also check disinfection guidelines published for your situation by EPA, Centers for Disease Control, and other agencies.
3. Control product mixing. Using full strength disinfectants may be reassuring, but this practice is seldom warranted so it just wastes chemicals. In addition, using the full strength product is more dangerous to the user. Therefore, make sure that your housekeeping and nursing staff dilute their disinfectants according to the label directions. (Refer to product label for correct concentration)
4. Use correct methods. Disinfectants need to be in contact with the germs they are intended to kill. That means the surface must first be cleaned to the point where it is free of dirt, grease and oil. Then the disinfectant must be thoroughly applied and left in place for 10 minutes. It may be necessary to do the work in a new sequence so as to allow this longer contact time. For example, consider doing a pre-cleaning of the surfaces and applying the disinfectant throughout a restroom, and then go on to empty the trash and refill paper dispensers. Not all disinfectant kill times are the same. Read the label for best results.