It’s flu season. At least one school in the Austin area has recently closed because of a flu outbreak. During this closure, the cleaning staff is asked to disinfect both the school facilities and the buses. What does it mean to disinfect? How is this different from cleaning and sanitizing? And does disinfecting surfaces even help to stop the flu from spreading?
Cleaning is the removal of dirt, residue, and debris from a surface. Sanitizing is removing and reducing the number of bacteria present on a surface, which may not kill all viruses. Disinfecting is the killing, destroying, and inactivation of disease-causing microorganisms present on a surface.
Chemical disinfection of surfaces is achieved when the right agent is used according to the instructions. There are countless chemicals to choose from, including alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and bleach. The EPA defines a disinfectant as, “a substance, or mixture of substances, that destroys or irreversibly inactivates bacteria, fungi, and viruses, but not necessarily bacterial spores, in the inanimate environment.”
The label of each chemical disinfectant will list the microorganisms which will be killed by the product and detailed instructions on how the product is to be prepared, applied, and removed in order to get these results. Many products require dilution which will not only help you get more use out of the contents of the package and reduce your overall cost, but it will also keep you safe from the effects of breathing fumes or skin contact. Over diluting will both decrease the effectiveness of the product and could also create an unsafe condition such as standing water on a walking surface. Each product will also have a shelf life from the time it was bottled and from the time it has been prepared for use. That bottle you haven’t reached for in over a year is probably not useful anymore. For example, an open bottle of undiluted bleach will begin to degrade after six months. Bleach diluted in water should be used within 24 hours to ensure maximum effectiveness.
A critical yet often-overlooked step in disinfecting is following the dwell time instructions, which specify how long the chemical needs to remain on a surface to kill microorganisms. This dramatically impacts efficacy. In most cases, a ‘spray and wipe’ technique is completely ineffective. Rather, a disinfectant should be allowed to dwell for the prescribed time, often at least 5-10 minutes, which can be tricky if the product is evaporating too quickly. Disinfection wet wipes also have dwell times that need to be followed. One wet wipe product states that in order to sanitize, a surface must remain “visibly wet” for 10 seconds and to disinfect for 4 minutes.
Note that all of the above information only addresses disinfecting surfaces. However, the flu is less frequently spread from surfaces as it is primarily an airborne virus. Contracting the influenza virus is best avoided by remaining away from sick individuals where you can breathe droplets from coughing, sneezing, or even talking.
The investment you have made in your facility will be protected by processes and procedures which meet cleaning objectives and won’t harm finishes and furnishings. Many more practices contribute to a clean and healthy indoor environment. To become efficient and effective, cleaning and operations personnel need proper training – the cost of which is worthwhile when the occupants of your space are well. In this way, commercial cleaning services can transform from an added budget cost into a value-added investment.
Clean Advocate uses environmentally friendly products that are Green Seal certified to meet health, environmental and performance requirements. Combined with our procedures appropriate to the occupancy and surface types in each individual setting, we will give you peace of mind by being your single point of contact for all your commercial cleaning needs. Call today to start creating a program tailored just for you.