TURI » Our Work » Cleaning Labora... » Resources and I... » Disinfection » Guide to Safe and Effective Clea...  

Guide to Safe and Effective Cleaning and Disinfecting

Should we limit our use of disinfectants?

There is a growing belief on the part of the public that all germs (or “microbes”) need to be killed because of infectious disease outbreaks. This belief and limited time for routine cleaning and hand hygiene leads to the indiscriminate use of sanitizers, disinfectants, and antimicrobial hand products that may actually pose a hazard to the public.

Disinfectants are not cleaners; they are pesticides designed to kill or inactivate microbes. Therefore, they are not products that should be used freely. Overuse of some disinfectant products can potentially create microbes that are resistant to particular disinfectants or that become “superbugs.”

Bacteria, fungi, and viruses play important positive roles in human health. Microbes have both beneficial uses and negative impacts. Product manufacturers sometimes advertise the negative view of germs and potential health affects to cause public alarm and increase the desire for antimicrobial products.

Why is it necessary to clean before disinfecting?

Frequent and correct cleaning of high-risk and high-touch areas with proper equipment will remove microbes. Microfiber cloths and mops are recommended for removal of up to 99% of microbes.  Steam cleaning machines and spray-and-vac machines are also recommended to remove microbes and their spores.

When is disinfection necessary?

Situations that require disinfection include accidents involving vomit, feces, body fluids, or blood; some bathroom surfaces; and for specific legally required activities in food preparation areas and in childcare settings.  Disinfectants are not recommended for daily use other than on high-risk surfaces and where required by regulation. All dirt, debris, and other organic matter should be removed from a surface so that the disinfectant can come into contact with and destroy the microbes. Soil renders disinfectants less effective because it can hide the microbes, absorb the disinfectant ingredients, and change the chemical nature of the disinfectant. The surface will remain disinfected only until the next person or microbe touches that surface.

Can you clean and disinfect at the same time?

Although cleaners do not disinfect and disinfectants do not clean, there are products that are designed and registered by the EPA to clean and disinfect. They contain both a disinfectant and a detergent cleaning agent. All heavily soiled surfaces need to be cleaned first using a separate cleaning agent.

Health Issues Related to Misuse or Overuse of Disinfectants

-          Disinfectants have been linked to acute and chronic health issues.

-          Ingredients such as acids, ammonia, bleach, and disinfectants are asthma irritants.

-          Emerging science links certain disinfectants to reproductive issues.

 Environmental Issues Related to Disinfectants

 -     Residues of disinfectants washed down the drain may be triggering the growth of disinfectant-resistant microbes.

-          Resistant bacteria created in wastewater treatment sludge can result in antibiotic-resistant diseases.

High-risk Areas

Locations where there is a higher risk for blood borne incidents, skin contact (MRSA risk), or contact with feces and body fluids.  

High-touch Areas

Surfaces touched frequently and by a variety of hands over the course of the day. High-touch areas include door handles, faucet handles, handrails, shared desks, push bars, drinking fountains, and so forth. Areas touched by only one person, such as a personal computer keyboard, do not pose the same risk.   

Cleaners – or detergents – are products used to remove soil, dirt, dust, organic matter, and germs.

Disinfectants are chemical products that destroy or deactivate germs. Disinfectants have no effect on dirt, soil or dust.