Cleaning vs Disinfecting: Understanding the Language Behind Clean

Cleaning vs Disinfecting

As of July 2020, 86% of surveyed small businesses in the US said they have already reopened. Over half of these SMBs have fully reopened, while the rest have only gone for a partial reopening.

Either way, these businesses must meet strict standards so they can operate. That includes cleaning and disinfecting their facilities by the CDC guidelines.

If you’re about to reopen your shop, you may be wondering how cleaning vs disinfecting differ. A lot of people seem to use these two terms as if they mean the same thing. They don’t, which is why it’s vital you know how to distinguish them.

Cleaning vs Disinfecting

Don’t worry though, as we’ve come up with this ultimate guide to help you differentiate the two. Read on so you, your employers, and your clients can stay safe and sane during this pandemic.

Cleaning vs Disinfecting: The Main Difference Between the Two

Cleaning is a process that entails the physical removal of dirt and grime. It doesn’t always remove and kill germs, but by cleaning a surface, you may be able to reduce their numbers.

Disinfecting, by contrast, is a process designed to kill germs on a surface. It doesn’t always mean that you’re also physically removing dirt and debris on a surface. However, it helps kill most of the germs that cleaning alone doesn’t get rid of.

Indeed, scientists say that incorrect surface cleaning can compromise disinfection processes. Dirt, debris, and other organic materials can cut down the efficacy of a disinfectant. For example, contaminants may impair or inactivate the disinfectant’s active ingredients.

Therefore, it’s important to always clean surfaces first before you disinfect them. In this way, you can reduce the risks of your disinfectants becoming ineffective. As such, cleaning before disinfecting surfaces can help kill more germs and bacteria.

By lowing bacterial counts, you can also lower the risk of transmission. This, in turn, can help reduce the risks of spreading infections.

So, the rule of thumb is to always clean surfaces before applying disinfectants on them. To help you remember, keep in mind that “C” (cleaning) always comes before “D” (disinfecting).

What Exactly Does Cleaning Entail Then?

Cleaning, whether of your hands or surfaces, involves the use of water and soap. When you wash your hands, by the way, be sure you scrub them for at least 20 seconds. This can help remove more dirt, grime, and even some germs better than just 5 to 10 seconds of washing.

By contrast, cleaning surfaces, such as counters, tabletops, and walls, require cleaning tools. These include things like sponges, cloths, and cleaning solutions like soaps and detergents.

Also, when you clean surfaces, you “transfer” contaminants from those surfaces to another. You can think of it this way: “point A” is the originating source, which is the surface that you need to clean. “Point B” then refers to the surface of the cleaning tool, such as a sponge or cloth.

So, as you clean surfaces, the contaminants from point A transfers to point B.

That’s why you should also clean and then disinfect the tools you use for cleaning. An example would be to soak used sponges and cloths in a solution of soap and disinfectants. In this way, you can kill germs that have transferred to the cleaning tools.

What About Disinfecting?

Proper disinfection methods involve the use of chemicals known to reduce pathogen populations. Pathogens are any microorganism that can carry, transmit, or cause diseases. They can be bacteria, viruses, worms, fungi, or protozoa (such as amoeba).

The most common disinfectants in homes include alcohol and household bleach. Commercial cleaning services often use other chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide. These professional cleaners always clean before disinfecting and may also offer sanitizing services.

Also, licensed commercial cleaners only utilize EPA-approved chemicals when disinfecting facilities. These are products that have shown to be effective in killing germs and pathogens. You should also use these materials when cleaning and disinfecting your home.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the other disinfectants you should use, be it at home or the office.

Ethyl Alcohol

Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is a germicide that you can also find in alcoholic drinks. It has shown to be effective against viruses, such as the influenza virus.

Note, however, that this depends on the concentration of ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol that has a 70% concentration is more effective than the isopropyl kind.

With that said, be sure that when you buy ethyl alcohol, it clearly states that it has a 70% concentration. It’s at this range (or higher) that the disinfectant works against many types of pathogens.

Hand Sanitizers

At the office, it’s best to place containers of hand sanitizers in areas with high traffic. It’s also a smart idea to always bring a small container with you so that you can disinfect your hands regularly. This is especially helpful if you leave your home and can’t wash your hands.

Hand sanitizers actually contain alcohol as a disinfectant. The usual range is between 60% and 95%.

Note that proper handwashing is always better than using just a hand sanitizer. Also, know that overuse of alcohol (whatever kind) can trigger skin dryness. Scientists say that ethanol has shown to be less irritating than isopropanol, though.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide destroys the vital parts of germicidal cells. In doing so, it deactivates microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, molds, and fungi. Moreover, studies have found that it inactivates influenza viruses.

EPA-registered products that contain hydrogen peroxide include disinfectant wipes. There are also disinfectant sprays and all-purpose cleaners that contain this chemical.

Good Old Bleach

Bleaches, like those you use at home, contain sodium hypochlorite. It’s effective in killing pathogens like Staph and other types of disease-causing germs. For your home, you may want to get bleaches from Clorox, as these are EPA-registered.

As for your office, your commercial cleaning service may also use bleach products. What’s important is to ensure that they use only EPA-approved items. This way, you can be sure that they disinfect your facilities with materials proven to kill germs.

So, What Is Sanitizing and How Does It Differ From Disinfecting?

Sanitizing, like disinfecting, also aims to minimize contaminants on a surface. It also kills germs and other pathogens that may be present on surfaces.

Semantics, however, distinguishes sanitizing and disinfecting. So, the two differ from each other in terms of the “number” of pathogens they can kill.

By definition, disinfecting kills more germs than sanitizing. “Sanitizers” are solutions or devices that cut the number of germs on surfaces by at least 99.9%. Disinfectants, by contrast, are chemicals designed to kill almost all of these pathogens.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Homes

At home, you should clean regularly clean surfaces with soap and water. You should do this more often for areas like light switches, handles, doorknobs, and tables.

Also, please keep in mind that disinfectants need a specific time to work. Some may have a contact time of only 10 minutes, while others may need up to 60 minutes. Always check the label of disinfectants and follow their usage instructions.

If you leave your house, make sure that you also wash your hands as soon as you get back home. Then, clean and disinfect what you touched right away, like the doorknob and light switch.

Also, always wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting your home. You should wear a face mask to help prevent inhaling the fumes of disinfecting chemicals. As always, clean before you disinfect.

Commercial Cleaning and Disinfection

Cleaning and disinfecting offices require a greater frequency than for homes. For starters, they are public spaces, so they have a higher traffic rate. As such, they have a more significant risk of potential pathogen transmission.

Commercial cleaning and disinfecting practices are similar to those used in homes, though. The difference is more of how often you need to clean and disinfect your facilities.

For instance, at home, you may only have to clean surfaces that you don’t frequently touch. Since they don’t get a lot of “traffic,” then you may only have to clean but not disinfect them.

In workplaces, however, it’s harder to control foot traffic since there are more people who come and go. As such, it’s best to clean and disinfect areas (especially high-touch ones) more often. This is even more vital for surfaces like light switches, doorknobs, tables, and phones.

Commercial cleaning services will also clean and disinfect shared devices more often. These include electronics like computers or laptops. It’s best to leave such tasks in the hands of pros, as they know exactly how to clean these without damaging them.

Always Remember to Clean Before You Disinfect

There you go, your ultimate guide that compares cleaning vs disinfecting. Now, you know how important it is to clean before you disinfect. You can clean without disinfecting, but you can’t disinfect without cleaning.

So, to make the most use out of your disinfectants, be sure to always clean surfaces first.

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