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July 2020

Do you understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Workplace Hygiene

The Coronavirus pandemic has created a sudden and urgent need for businesses to visibly demonstrate that they are taking the necessary steps to protect their employees and their customers from cross contamination.

With more and more businesses reopening, everyone from restaurant and hotel managers to office and retail store managers have had to consider how to step up their cleaning regimens to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, cleaning alone may not be enough when it comes to eliminating Coronavirus.

The difference between cleaning and disinfecting

So what is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? The U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention gives these general definitions on its website.

  • “Cleaning refers to the removal of dirt and impurities, including germs, from surfaces. Cleaning alone does not kill germs. But by removing the germs, it decreases their number and therefore any risk of spreading infection.”
  • “Disinfecting works by using chemicals, for example, EPA-registered disinfectants, to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. But killing germs remaining on a surface after cleaning further reduces any risk of spreading infection.”

Cleaning must utilise soap and water to effectively remove germs from a surface – but it does not kill and inactivate them. “Germs,” as it is used by the CDC in this definition, includes a range of pathogens, including many bacteria, and viruses like Coronavirus.

Both cleaning and disinfection can successfully reduce the risk of spreading infection when done properly and thoroughly; when used in conjunction with one another, they can be even more effective. But it’s important to note that only proper disinfection can kill pathogens.

Dwell time:

When it comes to disinfection, there is also another important term that figures into the equation: dwell time. Dwell time is defined as the amount of time that a disinfectant must remain on a surface to kill its target pathogens.

If wiped or rinsed off before achieving the required dwell time, pathogens may remain on a surface, setting up a false sense of security. This is why in our Specialist Disinfection services, Rentokil Initial uses a disinfectant that does not require rinsing or wiping off. Dwell times can vary significantly depending on the product being used, however, the length of dwell time is not an indicator of a product’s effectiveness – shorter dwell times do not make a product “more effective” than one with a longer dwell time.

Is your cleaning service enough?

Many companies either have an in-house cleaner, or employ cleaning services to conduct daily cleaning such as emptying the bins, vacuuming, wiping tables, and other general tasks. Your cleaning service may even advertise that they disinfect surfaces.

However, it may be worth asking a few questions to understand exactly what your cleaning service does, and what they mean by disinfecting. Thoroughness is the key to effective cleaning and disinfection, and statistics around the effectiveness of some daily cleaning services may surprise you.

  • Spray and wipe-down methods can miss up to 50% of surfaces, according to ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association.
  • A 2009 Journal of Hospital Infection report looked at four different methods of cleaning in hospital environments and found that “visual assessment alone did not always provide a meaningful measure of surface cleanliness or cleaning efficacy.”

And using the wrong type of cleaning products can have disastrous consequences, as was discovered when all 75 carriages of the Caledonian sleep train (which cost €169 million to build and which serves major London-Scotland routes) had to be closed down because cleaners used the wrong kind of detergent to clean the toilets.The caustic bleach used by the team burned right through the pipework, causing major plumbing problems and leaving many passengers without water in the en-suite toilets, basins and showers. You can read more about the dangers of cleaning with harsh chemicals in our blog post of the same name. (link required)

A professional disinfection service should have access to equipment that can disperse disinfectants in more effective ways than spray and wipe down methods. Initial’s Specialist Disinfection Service, for example, uses Ultra Low Volume (ULV) technology and a combination of tools to apply a high-level disinfectant in a mist. This method of application can reach areas that traditional cleaning services simply cannot.

Responsible use of disinfectants:

There is a common myth that the overuse of disinfectants can lead to the development of superbugs, such as MRSA. The good news is that science has yet to show that this is true.

However, that doesn’t mean that commercial-grade disinfectants should be used indiscriminately by anyone. Disinfectants should be applied by trained professionals using caution and equipped in full personal protective equipment. Those applying them should ensure that surfaces to be disinfected are cleaned properly before the disinfectant is applied, because grime is a barrier to the disinfectant doing its job. They should also understand the correct application method, the surfaces the product can be used on safely, the required dwell time for effectiveness, and any required clean-up after the product has achieved the required dwell time.

Preparing to reopen:

After nearly three months of extensive business closures, many businesses are now finally reopening. As part of their reopening, new guidelines for required cleaning and disinfection practices are being pushed out. It’s important to understand the requirements for your industry, to avoid potential run-ins with inspectors.

Market research firm Datassential has been conducting weekly surveys with consumers throughout the Coronavirus crisis to gain their insights on the pandemic and how it is impacting their view on restaurants and eating out. In an April 17, 2020 survey, consumers revealed how they felt about post-Coronavirus re-openings:

  • 61% of respondents are very concerned about their personal health as it relates to COVID-19.
  • A whopping 61% said they would avoid eating out entirely, while 24% said it makes them nervous, but they will still continue to do so.
  • When asked if they are more concerned about the health crisis or the economic crisis, 60% said they are more concerned about the health crisis.
  • In regards to restaurants reopening, to consider eating somewhere, 76% say they expect common areas to be deep cleaned regularly.

While this only reflects views toward one industry, it may provide a snapshot of consumer mindset and expectations of the businesses where they choose to shop and dine.

Having a well-planned cleaning and disinfection strategy can help establish your business as trustworthy with your customers, giving them visual cues that you are working to protect their health and enhance their customer experience.

Are you preparing to re-open? To discuss our comprehensive hygiene solutions with an Initial expert, contact us. You can also subscribe to our blog to get regular insights sent straight to your inbox.

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at www.initial.co.za. Life outside of Rentokil mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned nine and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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