Do you know the difference between how to clean and how to disinfect? It seems there are a lot of people who are confused about the difference. A poll conducted for the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) found that 4 in every 10 Americans are not using disinfecting and sanitizing products correctly. Do you have a guess about what so many people are doing wrong? It’s a simple mistake to make and centers on confusion regarding what it means to clean, which is not the same as disinfecting. There are benefits to doing both, but in a time of a pandemic, not knowing the difference can quickly lead to illness. Keep reading to make sure you understand when to use each technique and be a safe host. Once you see where so many people have gone wrong, you’ll never clean (or disinfect) the same way again.
What Does it Means to Clean a SurfaceWho taught you how to disinfect surfaces? Were you shown how in school? Did a parent make you do chores? Or did you just figure it out on your own (by reading the labels on cleaning products)? Once people develop a habit for how they do something, it’s hard to break it. That’s why learning the difference between cleaning and disinfecting, and doing each one the correct way, is important at a young age. Too many adults have a hard time accepting when they’re wrong, but kids are much more flexible. In a lot of households, children start to learn how to clean by being asked to do some basic chores, such as wiping down a dinner table before or after it has been used. This fits well in the cleaning category. No chemicals are needed, just a wet paper towel or cloth. Dust and bits of food get wiped away, leaving the surface smooth to the touch. You can also clean using soap and water. It’s an effective way to remove germs, but for most surfaces, it’s not as effective as disinfecting.
What Does it Means to Disinfect a SurfaceDisinfecting doesn’t require wiping a surface. It is a chemical reaction that takes time to complete. Where most people go wrong is they wipe away the disinfecting solution as soon as it’s on the surface. Don’t do that! It doesn’t matter if you’re using disinfecting wipes or a disinfecting spray, you need to allow them to make the surface “wet” and stay that way for a specific period of time. For example, SONO Disinfecting Wipes require a minimum of 4 minutes to kill most germs. Be sure to look at the directions on whatever product you use to see how much time is needed. Disinfecting is straightforward to do with a spray, but for the surface to stay wet with disinfecting wipes requires a change in habit for most people. Unless you are using your wipe for pre-cleaning, you shouldn't vigorously wipe a surface. You need to be gentle enough with your wiping to leave the surface wet.
How Disinfectants WorkSo why does disinfecting require time to work? Why can’t we just wipe surfaces with a disinfectant the same way we clean a surface? The easy answer is that the chemical solution used for disinfection breaks down germs. When we think of germs we focus on bacteria and viruses, but fungi and protozoa fit in this category, too. Bacteria are living single-celled organisms. Disinfection is toxic to them, which makes them die. A virus is a little different. It needs a host to survive. They have a shell made of protein and live inside cells. Disinfectants tend to break the protein shell that covers a virus, which eliminates it. It’s also important to consider the types of surfaces when disinfection is needed. Most disinfectants work best on hard, non-porous surfaces like plastic, metal, and some treated materials like kitchen counters.
How to Properly Disinfect a SurfaceSince now you know how 4 out of 10 Americans are disinfecting wrong, here’s a step-by-step explanation for how to do it right:
- 1. With soap and water, use a damp towel or cloth to wipe away any material on the surface you want to clean. Make sure it is dry before moving to the next step.
- 2. “Wet” the surface using your disinfectant spray or disinfecting wipes. It’s important to not wipe away the formula. Allow it to work it is magic. It is only disinfecting when the surface is visibly wet.
- 3. Every disinfecting product has a different amount of time the surface needs to be wet for it to kill the most germs. Read the directions to see how long is needed. Then wait for at least the minimum recommended time before doing anything else.
- 4. Wipe the surface with a disinfecting wipe or a cloth one last time to remove any residue.