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DB Blog #44 – Cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting, what’s the difference?

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In today’s day and age, cleaning is fast becoming more of a front line service. 

Its critical importance is being recognised in every walk of life, whether for daily cleaning maintenance, deep cleans, infection prevention or for full on decontamination procedures.  I thought it might prove useful to outline my own insights into the differences between the three main cleaning processes; cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting.

1. Cleaning:  remove dirt, soil, debris and stains

Cleaning is something we are all familiar with and certainly forms an important part of our daily and weekly life whether at work or at home.  Keeping things clean is vital for personal health.  Employers have a duty of care to their staff to provide a clean, healthy and safe environment to work in.

Generally it is recommended to clean frequently and vigorously any frequently touched surfaces to prevent build up of grime but more importantly it is also to remove unwanted lurking germs.  The cleanliness of frequently touched surfaces (germ hotspots) are extremely important in more vulnerable settings such as care homes and health environments where the sick and susceptible congregate; dining areas, receptions, lounges etc.  Left uncleaned or ineffectually cleaned, these may prove fatal to an unknowing hand.

Germ hotspots will depend upon the environment but may include; tables, doorknobs, light switches, kettles, hand rails, beds, keyboards, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, sinks etc. etc.

Items with a lower risk for germ transmission, such as floors and windows may only need regular surface cleaning although it is worth bearing in mind that even these surfaces can harbour germs and so are still potential culprits for cross contamination.

2. Sanitising:  make clean and hygienic by reducing bacteria to safe levels (lowers the number of germs on a surface)

Sanitising takes cleaning that step further.  It is the process of killing hidden germs that harbour on a surface.  Usually, chemical products are chosen according to its specific germ and log kill.  In other words, if it is known or suspected what germs are lingering, an appropriate product will be used to reduce the bacteria present.  Similarly, a broad spectrum virucidal could be used to cover all bases if the germ type is unknown.   (See my earlier blog on log kill for more information on this).

A sanitising product undergoes specific laboratory testing to determine whether it conforms to industry standards for specific germ kill.  The test will take into account the length of time and condition.  These claims will be detailed on a chemical’s product packaging with fuller details covered within a microbiology report giving full clarity for the user.

Sanitising can only be conducted once the area has been cleaned first.

3. Disinfecting:  a stronger decontamination chemical to destroy germs (kills the number of germs on a surface)

Finally for a fuller decontamination process disinfection will be used.  Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it lowers the risk of spreading infection.

It is important to match your cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting activities to the job in hand and the types of germs you want to remove or kill.

One final point to mention is residual cleanliness – there is currently no BS EN test for the residual effectiveness of sanitisers against bacteria or viruses.  In other words, as soon as anyone enters an area that you have cleaned, sanitised or disinfected it potentially becomes contaminated.

Herein lies the old adage, “a cleaner’s job is never done!”

Yours, DB

PS.  Don’t forget to check out my next blog as I’ll be writing about all the different types of germs and showing a few of our highest selling products to help get rid of them.  In the meantime for any product information, just call us on 023 9243 4505 and we will be more than happy to help you.