To disinfect properly, we’ve got to remember two key rules: clean first and contact time. If you don’t follow these very important steps, you will not be killing the bacteria and viruses that cause illness. First, let’s talk about why we can’t just use a “disinfectant cleaner” and be done with it. Despite what commercials may tell you, there’s no such thing as a disinfectant cleaner; well, not one that is going to be effective that we’re aware of. A 2-in-1 just doesn’t exist. There’s no way to get around the fact that a disinfectant is only going to truly work on a clean surface. Why, you ask? Dirt consumes disinfectant. Dirt also covers the germs that a disinfectant is meant to kill. It will act as a microscopic umbrella shielding the germs from the disinfectant. Then, the germs that were protected by the dirt will feed on it and multiply. The only way to properly disinfect is to clean first to remove the dirt and disinfect after to kill what was left behind. If you’re using your disinfectant on a dirty surface, you are simply wasting your time and chemicals.
The second facet to proper disinfection is “contact time” or “dwell time.” A lot of us make the mistake of just spraying the disinfectant and wiping it dry but we need to remember that disinfecting takes time! So, how do we do that? According to Becker Hospital Review, the best way to ensure that your disinfectant is effective is to make sure that the surface remains visibly wet with a disinfectant solution for the full recommended contact time, usually between five and ten minutes. EPA approved disinfecting agents will have the recommended contact time listed on their labels. For example, the Clorox label recommends a 5 minute contact time for their regular bleach to disinfect but a lot of solutions come with a ten minute recommendation.
So, to disinfect my bathroom, I would clean my surfaces with a damp microfiber towel (different towels for each area to avoid getting toilet germs on my counter) and then take another microfiber towel and submerge it in my solution and coat the each of the surfaces, again using a different towel for each area – never put a used towel back into your solution. The surfaces would need to remain wet for five minutes (or as long as the label indicates) before being wiped away and air dried. It is not effective to simply take a wipe and run it across your doorknobs and light switches.
For hard flat surfaces, like floors, countertops and tables, soak your mop or cloth in the disinfectant solution and wring it out slightly, just so it’s not dripping. Apply the solution and leave it on for five minutes and then rinse with clean water and let it air dry. For more challenging surfaces, like doorknobs, cabinet, appliance or drawer handles, spray on the solution or simply wrap your treated towel around the surface to let the chemical do its job. Use a clean cloth for each surface area and do not put a soiled cloth back in your solution.
I know I said there were two key rules for proper disinfection, cleaning first and allowing for the appropriate contact time. There’s just one more thing that needs reiteration – Read the Label! Some disinfectants need to be washed away after use. These are primarily phenolics used in healthcare but it’s really important to make sure that you’re not leaving something harmful on your surfaces in an effort to disinfect.
TAKING PRECAUTIONS - HAND WASHING, ATTIRE, COLOR CODING
Another way that we can protect ourselves, homes and workplaces from germs is to make sure we’re not bringing the contagions inside to begin with. The easiest way to do this is to wash your hands for at least the full 20 seconds as recommended by well, everyone! There are some great instructional videos on how to properly wash your hands here and here. Hand-washing should be done frequently, especially after coming into contact with any high-touch surface (doorknob, phone, remote control), pre- and post- food prep, entering a new space, and returning to your home or office.
Wearing gloves may seem like a great idea but if you’re wearing them on dirty hands or not removing them properly, you’re likely exacerbating the spread of contaminants. This video is a great learning tool and points out the importance of only skin touching skin and glove touching glove.
Color coding your microfiber products is key in preventing cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is the unintentional transfer of bacteria, viruses or other pathogens from one surface to another. Aside from proper training and care, one of the simplest ways to prevent this is to only use specific colors in specific areas. For instance, you would assign a red cloth or red mop pad to be used only in bathrooms. The green cloths and pads would only be for use in the kitchen. That way, there’s not a danger of transferring germs from your bathroom sink to your kitchen cabinets. You can also specify a color specifically for disinfecting. Once you’ve used your red and green towels for cleaning your kitchen and bathroom respectively, you will use a yellow towel only for disinfecting. This is also very helpful when laundering your cloths at the end of the day. It’s important to always remember to use a clean cloth or mop for each task. You can read more about color coding here and here.