How to Disinfect Properly
One of our goals here at Branch Environmental is for you to live your best life in your best health. To that end, we wanted to share our knowledge of disinfection with you. We are a company that disinfects people’s homes and businesses on a routine basis, and we wanted to reassure you that you can handle disinfection, too! Whether you are an individual or a business, this post can help increase your knowledge of disinfection and when, where, why, and how you should disinfect.
What and When to Disinfect
For most household cleaning, sanitizing is sufficient to prevent the spread of disease. Some surfaces in your home (or office) should be routinely sanitized to prevent the spread of germs especially high touch surfaces such as: door knobs, computer keyboards and mice, sink handles, light switches, telephones, microwave buttons and doors.
Young children are more likely to both be sick and spread disease because they are not as aware of good hygiene habits as adults. Help young children stay well by encouraging hand washing often, especially before eating, after returning from school or an outing, and after using the toilet.
If someone in your home or office has a confirmed contagious disease (flu, colds, COVID-19, etc.) disinfection as well as sanitizing should be used. Always sanitize first to reduce the microbial load, then disinfect.
Keep reading to learn how to disinfect properly toward the end of this post!
Why should you disinfect rather than sanitize or sterilize?
Did you know that disinfecting, sanitizing, and sterilizing were three different techniques to remove or eliminate microbes? Each one is a different level of ‘clean.’ For an even more detailed look at the three cleaning techniques, see our post titled Disinfecting, Sterilizing, and Sanitizing is there a Difference?
- Sanitizing a surface is “the process of reducing microbial contamination to an acceptable ‘safe’ level.” For example: mopping the kitchen floor with hot water and/or soap. The number of microbes is reduced by the action of removing them with water. However, there are still microbes present.
- Disinfectants are chemical compounds that kill or inactivate almost all, but not all microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others. For example, they may not be effective against bacterial or fungal spores. So, disinfectants kill microbes and reduce their presence, but may not kill every single microbe.
- Sterilization is the most extreme of the three processes and is ‘the complete elimination or destruction of all forms of life by a chemical or physical means.’ With sterilization all forms of microbial life are killed on a surface. Examples of sterilization include: autoclaving (steam sterilization), radiation, dry heat, or other chemical methods. Sterilization is not a method that is normally used in people’s homes or businesses. Sterilization is used in industrial settings when creating products that must be sterile, such as sterile water solutions for hospitals or for sterilizing medical devices.
So, why should we disinfect? Disinfection is needed when there is a high possibility that bacteria, fungi, viruses, or other microbes could cause disease. For example: when someone in your home or office has been sick with a contagious disease, or in an area that could be contaminated with harmful microbes such as kitchen counters, cutting boards, anywhere that comes in contact with raw meat, eggs, fish, etc. Most of the time, sanitizing is sufficient to remove microbes and keep people healthy.
In the Kitchen
Floors, walls, windows, tables, and cabinets usually only need sanitizing to reduce the microbial load in those areas. All surfaces in the kitchen should be sanitized often to keep microbial levels low.
Food preparation surfaces should be disinfected. Harmful microbes such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli can be found in raw meat and egg products. Any surfaces in contact with raw meat or eggs should be disinfected.
Fortunately, dishwashers are excellent at disinfection using detergent and hot water. Some dishwashers are even equipped with a sanitizing hot water rinse as an option. When family members are sick, using the additional hot water rinse will help eliminate more of the infectious microbes.
When hand washing dishes, such as knives, that cannot be washed in a dishwasher, use water that is above 171F for rinsing. This helps ensure that as many microbes on the surface as possible are killed.
For Bathrooms and During Illness
For bathrooms, most areas only need sanitizing like cabinets, walls, floors, and tubs. Sinks, sink handles, light switches, door knobs and other high touch areas should be first sanitized and then disinfected if family members are ill.
If family members are contagious, try to isolate the family member to one room, and allow him or her to only use one bathroom. Have other family members use a different bathroom if possible until the person is no longer contagious.
After the family member is no longer contagious, first sanitize and then disinfect the areas of the bathroom and bedroom that are high touch or have been soiled.
Time limits for common contagious illnesses:
- Flu – you must be fever free for 24 hours to be considered no longer contagious.
- Bacterial infections, you must have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours to be no longer contagious.
- COVID-19 – there is a 14 day period where you may show no symptoms, but still infect others with the disease. This is one of the primary reasons people are being asked to stay at home at this time. The other reasons include: preventing overwhelmed hospitals, protecting health care professionals, and slowing the spread of the disease. 10
- Other contagious diseases – it depends on the disease as to how long you are contagious. Ask your doctor to learn more.
Cleaning areas where you interact with the public is very important. For COVID-19, according to the CDC, businesses should clean routinely as they normally do, but pay special attention to high touch surfaces such as doorknobs, counter tops, light switches, workstations, and bathrooms. 1 Additional disinfection is not recommended at this time. 1 Disposable antimicrobial wipes can be used to clean commonly touched surfaces. 1 Employees should wipe high touch surfaces before each use. 1
The CDC recommends that employers encourage employees to stay home when they or a family member are sick, instruct employees to wash hands often and practice good hand hygiene, and practice coughing and sneezing etiquette and practice. 2
To learn more about CDC recommendations for businesses go to: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers | CDC.
How to Disinfect
Now for the most important part of this post! How do I disinfect a surface properly? There are four critical steps to follow for the disinfection process:1. Sanitize 2. Choose an appropriate disinfectant. 3. Read the label 4. Disinfect.
Step 1 – Sanitize (clean) the surface prior to disinfection.
Remember, sanitizing removes most of the dirt and microbes, but many remain. Choosing a safe cleaning product can be difficult due to the fact that cleaning products are not regulated by our government. To learn more about safe cleaning products see our post: Disinfecting, Sterilizing, and Sanitizing is there a Difference and read the section titled ‘Household Cleaners, the EPA, and the Truth.’
Step 2 – Choose an appropriate disinfectant.
This is more easily said than done. Disinfectants are more dangerous to use because they contain much stronger chemicals than sanitizers. There are only 3 disinfectants on the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning that received a rating of ‘B’. (‘A’ being the highest and safest rating.) 4 There were no disinfectants that received the top rating of ‘A’. 4 Most disinfectants contain fragrance and much more toxic chemicals than sanitizers. 4 Check out the EWG guide for yourself to learn specific chemicals that are in disinfectants, and learn more about the ingredients used.
Step 3 – Read the Label, Read the Label, Read the Label! Then, get more information (SDS).
Safety – No matter what disinfectant you choose, there will be safety precautions listed on the label. This is a time you should absolutely READ ALL DIRECTIONS BEFORE BEGINNING!
Appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) should be listed, and worn prior to using the disinfectant. Proper ventilation, masks, gloves, long sleeves, etc. may be important when using specific disinfectants. Be sure to read the label carefully to know what PPE is needed. Note: N-95 respirators are for use in hospitals and surgical settings, they are not required for disinfection. N95 respirators are currently in short supply in hospitals. It is more important to have the masks to care for sick people than to disinfect. For disinfection purposes, a mask should be sufficient with good ventilation of the room. 7
Contact time or dwell time is the amount of time that a surface should remain covered (or wet) with a chemical for the chemical to kill the microbes on the surface. This will be listed on the label and should be followed carefully in order for the disinfectant to do its job and kill microbes.
Always read the instructions carefully to know if you should use the disinfectant alone, dilute it with water, and of course, what chemicals NOT to mix. There have been news reports recently of people mixing disinfectants and causing chlorine gas to form! Chlorine gas is very toxic, and can make you very sick! Do not let this happen to you! Please, please read all instructions before beginning!
In addition to reading the label for hazardous chemicals, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires manufacturers to create Safety Data Sheets (SDS) in a specific format. 6 SDS must include: “contain general information about the chemical, identification, hazards, composition, safe handling practices, and emergency control measures (e.g., fire fighting).” 6 Employers are required to give employees access to SDS sheets in their workplace. 6 At home, you can search for the manufacturer’s website to obtain SDS online or search one of the free SDS databases online.
People should NOT be allowed to enter the area you are disinfecting until you are finished with the job. Be sure to post a sign on the door or direct people away during cleaning and dwell time.
Step 4- Disinfect.
Now that you know what PPE to wear, how to apply the product, how long it should sit on the surface, and what ventilation is necessary, you are ready to disinfect! Be sure to follow all the manufacturers instructions, use the proper PPE, and follow the SDS guidelines.
Remember, there are four critical steps to follow for the disinfection process:
- Choose an appropriate disinfectant.
- Read the label and get more information.
Now you know how to properly disinfect surfaces. You also know just how important it is to not only read directions, but to learn more about the products you are using! For even more information, be sure to check out the links to our footnotes and the glossary at the bottom of this post.
We’re Here When You Need Us
Call Branch Environmental. We are a local service team that not only cares about your home, but also cares about you. We’ve been finding & eliminating mold, allergens, and other toxins across the state of Georgia for over 25 years.
We’re experts not only at mold and asbestos removal, but at determining and remediating the underlying causes. From hidden mold sources to major contaminants, we can identify exactly what is going on in your home, and rid it of environmental toxins, often for good.
Branch Environmental – Because nobody should live or work in a building that makes them sick.
For more information go to:
- Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers | CDC
- Coughing & Sneezing | Etiquette & Practice | Hygiene | Healthy Water – CDC
- Handwashing – Clean Hands Save Lives – CDC
- EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning – Environmental Working Group
- Disinfecting, Sterilizing, and Sanitizing is there a Difference? – Branch Environmental
- Hazard Communication Standard: Safety Data Sheets – OSHA
- Infographic – Understanding the Difference, Surgical Mask, N95 Respirator – CDC
- Interim Recommendations for US Community Facilities with Suspected/Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 – CDC
- Safety and Health Topics | Personal Protective Equipment – OSHA
- Unprecedented call to Americans: Stay home to slow COVID-19 spread – American Medical Association
- Contact time or dwell time – the amount of time that a surface should remain covered (or wet) with a chemical for the chemical to kill the microbes on the surface.
- Contagious – (of a disease) spread from one person or organism to another by direct or indirect contact.
- Disinfectants are chemical compounds that kill or inactivate almost all, but not all microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others.
- High Touch Surfaces – surfaces that are touched often and require routine sanitizing.
- Isolate – cause (a person or place) to be or remain alone or apart from others.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.
- Sanitizing – the process of reducing microbial contamination to an acceptable ‘safe’ level.
- Sterilization – the complete elimination or destruction of all forms of life by a chemical or physical means.
Blog information is NOT intended to provide or replace medical advice. NO information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.
*We are an Amazon affiliate company and we do occasionally receive compensation for products that you purchase through links on our website.
Suggestions for products to use are just that, suggestions. You know yourself and your home best. Please do your own research on any product you use in your home or on your skin, and learn all the facts for yourself. Thank you.