Cleaning vs. Disinfecting: Best Practices for Maintaining Clean Facilities

What's the difference between cleaning and disinfecting

Since the onset of the pandemic, the frequency and thoroughness of cleaning and disinfecting has increased in public facilities as well as in our homes. While it’s great to be prepared against pathogens, it’s equally essential to not go overboard when it comes to these processes. To avoid hygiene theater, facility managers should have a clear plan in place for what to clean and disinfect and how, and to educate their staff on the key differences between these tasks.

Differentiating the Two Processes

Cleaning is the action that removes dirt, dust and other contaminants from surfaces as well as germs and impurities that we cannot see with the naked eye. Products labeled as cleaners or soap and water, which some may use to clean, may not necessarily kill bacteria and fungi or inactivate viruses. However, by addressing these visible and microscopic contaminants, cleaners reduce the number of germs on the objects and surfaces with which we come into contact.

Alternatively, disinfecting is the process of targeting pathogens and their ability to cause infections. Disinfecting chemicals kill bacteria and fungi. With regards to viruses, these solutions inactivate, as viruses are not living organisms and therefore cannot technically be killed. In order for a disinfectant to meet its claims against bacteria, fungi and viruses, it is necessary to correctly apply the product. The label will include “dwell time” instructions, or the amount of time the surface needs to remain wet. Following these directions will enhance the efficacy of the product.

It’s important to remember that before your employees disinfect surfaces, they must first clean them to take away soil loads that may inhibit the disinfectant from working at optimal performance. This is because the process of disinfecting doesn’t necessarily clean a surface.

What to Clean and Disinfect

When thinking about cleaning and disinfecting, we often consider these tasks as coupled, or a two-step process. First, employees clean. Then, they disinfect. It’s true that when disinfecting, you must follow this sequence. However, not every single surface needs to be disinfected. In fact, the volume of cleaner that staff members use should be much higher than the level of disinfectant that is consumed. Disinfectants are reserved for objects and surfaces that are considered high touch and would be most likely to pass infectious pathogens to people’s hands.

So, what surfaces might require disinfecting? In an environment such as a school where there are many people gathered and communal spaces, things like door handles, restroom counters, desks, cafeteria tables and fitness equipment will likely need to be cleaned and then disinfected. Meanwhile, floors, windows and walls can simply be cleaned.

Alternatively, in a commercial office, elevator buttons, appliance handles and cubicles should be cleaned and disinfected, while chairs, floors and other items that are not shared or are used on a less frequent basis can be thoroughly cleaned to save time and chemical.

Perfecting the “How”

Getting the “how” of cleaning and disinfecting right is paramount, especially when it’s our wellbeing at risk. As stated above, following a product’s dwell or contact time is key when disinfecting. However, it’s also important to carefully consider the types of solutions you’re using, as these can have long-term impacts on the professionals who perform these duties as well as facility occupants and visitors.

Select products that do not contain added fragrances or ingredients that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. Increasingly, facilities are adopting electrochemically-activated cleaning and disinfecting solutions that are generated on site using salt, water and electricity. These solutions are incredibly effective and safe, and support sustainability, making them an excellent alternative to caustic traditional cleaning chemicals.

A Smarter Approach to Cleaning and Disinfecting

In the face of contagious viruses like SARS-CoV-2 it’s crucial to have a sound process in place for cleaning and disinfecting your facility. An organized approach can effectively manage these infectious disease risks and enable your staff to adequately address the most important surfaces when disinfecting. Additionally, a smart strategy will enable you to limit wasting resources like chemical, water and energy, and enhance productivity while also reducing the risk of burnout among your cleaning staff. In turn, this will yield a more efficient, sustainable and safe operation as well as cleaner buildings.

If you’re looking to enhance the way you approach cleaning and disinfecting in your facility, contact GSF USA here and follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook to learn more about our sustainable and unique approach to facility maintenance.

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