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How to Disinfect Almost Anything With Microfiber

How to Disinfect Almost Anything With Microfiber

Updated January 16, 2024

In the world of household upkeep, terms like "cleaning," "disinfecting," and "sanitizing" often create confusion. We've all wondered whether a simple wipe-down suffices or if it's time for heavy-duty disinfectants.

Fear not, as we are here to clear the air! Join us as we break down the distinctions between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. From understanding the science behind each process to identifying the right tools, we'll provide practical insights for a truly spotless home.

Get ready to up your cleaning game with knowledge because, after all, a clean home is a happy home!

Cleaning vs. Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting

Most people don’t realize that there is a difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Basically, cleaning, disinfection, and sanitization all reduce your exposure to germs, but the difference is how they do it, and how much they can do it.

Cleaning

Cleaning removes dirt, dust, impurities and germs from a surface by washing them away with a soap solution or picking them up with a cleaning tool, like the fibers of a microfiber cloth. Think about laundering clothes and textiles or washing your dishes with a sink of soapy water and a sponge.

Microfiber and water are also an effective and detergent free way to clean since microfiber is positively charged and negatively charged dirt clings to it like a magnet, thus removing it from hard surfaces. Proper cleaning removes 97% of dirt and germs from surfaces.

Sanitizing

Sanitizing uses chemicals to kill bacteria. That chemical may also be strong enough to kill some weakened viruses, but not enough to make an official virus kill claim, as this is one of the key differentiators between sanitizers and disinfectants. A product must be able to effectively kill viruses or fungi, not just bacteria, to be called a disinfectant.

Sanitizers can be used alone or they can be mixed into a cleaner with detergents and other chemicals to remove dirt and impurities. Oftentimes, the all-purpose cleaner that you’re using in your home is also a sanitizer. Sanitizers are great for routine household cleaning in high-touch areas, like counters, tables, desks, doorknobs, light switches, etc.

The other critical feature that makes a chemical a Sanitizer is that it has to kill at least 99.9% of illness causing bacteria, giving you a 1,000 times reduction in potential exposure.

Disinfecting

Disinfecting is the granddaddy of them all. Disinfecting also uses chemicals to kill germs, but unlike cleaning and sanitizing, it can kill bacteria AND viruses or fungi — sometimes all three!

This is where we want to focus our efforts and we’ll go over everything you never wanted to know about disinfecting in a bit. Disinfecting must be done after thoroughly cleaning and the disinfectant must remain on the surface for a specified period of time, usually five to ten minutes, in order to be effective.

If done correctly, disinfecting kills 99.999% of illness causing bacteria and viruses giving you a 100,000 times reduction in potential exposure. While removing 97% of germ cleaning, 99.9% sanitizing, and 99.999% disinfecting looks similar at first glance, in reality just the difference between .9 and .999 is enough to reduce exposure to germs 1,000 times versus 100,000, which is huge and can mean the difference between life and death when controlling deadly viruses outbreaks, like MRSA in a hospital.

Types of Disinfectants: Bleach, Lysol, Acids, & More

Time for a science lesson in disinfecting. There are four types of disinfectants:

      • Oxidizers
      • Phenolics
      • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats)
      • Acids

They’re all effective but they work in different ways and have their own pros and cons.

Oxidizers

Oxidizers, like bleach or peroxide are the most common household disinfectants. They’re cheap, they’re effective and honestly, if I smell bleach, I feel pretty confident that stuff is disinfected! Oxidizers work by destroying the cell walls and stealing electrons which basically pulls the cells apart.

Oxidizers are an excellent disinfectant because they’re effective on a wide range of organisms. Their main downfall is that they are harmful to many surfaces and they’re unstable. Bleach is corrosive and also stains so it’s best not to use it frequently. Also, once bleach, peroxide and other oxidizers are exposed to oxygen, they begin to breakdown. A bottle of bleach is actually only effective as a disinfectant for a few months after opening and the shelf life for peroxide is even shorter.

Phenolics

Phenolics work by disrupting the cell walls by coagulating proteins and basically drying them out. Lysol is a common phenolic disinfectant. Phenol is the oldest known disinfectant and was used by Dr. Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery.

They’re best used in a healthcare setting because of their ability to inactivate the most difficult viruses. Phenols are toxic in high concentrations and can be harmful to people. When using phenolic disinfectants, it is imperative that the disinfected surface be rinsed after the appropriate contact time is up (more on that later).

Quats

Quats work by denaturing proteins and making them fall apart. They are preferred by professional cleaners in residential settings because they effectively destroy a wide variety of organisms without damaging surfaces. Quats lose their power on dirty surfaces so they will only be effective if they’re used after the surfaces have been thoroughly cleaned.

Quats also are attracted to and become absorbed by fabrics meaning that less of the chemical is available to disinfect a hard surface because it stays on the towel that you are using to apply it. Basically, it dilutes itself by staying on the fabric. This can be compensated for by using a stronger concentration.

Acids

Acids work by basically dissolving cells. These disinfectants, like citric acid, are found in many popular bathroom and kitchen household cleaners. Acids are simple and effective disinfectants. However, they also can be damaging to hard surfaces.

Disclaimer, I’m not a chemist, I was actually advised by my professor to drop chemistry in college. In a fun little bit of family irony, my sister is now a college chemistry professor and she would probably agree with my rudimentary explanations. Probably…I’ll ask her. Update: I asked her, and she said, “pretty much.”

Disinfecting Guidelines

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 an instant disinfectant cleaner; well, not one that is going to be effective that we’re aware of. A 2-in-1 that works immediately 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 and 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.

This means the ONLY way to use a disinfecting cleaner effectively is to wash the surface with the product till it is fully clean and then leave enough disinfecting cleaner behind to keep the surface wet for the required dwell time to kill the remaining germs.

This brings us to “dwell time” (AKA “contact time”) the 2nd most critical factor in disinfection.” 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 five-minute contact time for their regular bleach to disinfect but a lot of solutions come with a ten minute recommendation.

Examples

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.

When treating a large area or working with a limited number of towels, it may be more efficient to keep your disinfecting solution in a sprayer, mist the surface with disinfectant, and then use your clean towel dampened with additional disinfectant to spread around and evenly coat the surface, thus eliminating the risk of putting your contaminated towel back into the disinfecting solution container.

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 if they don’t stay wet long enough to kill anything.

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, and 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.

Disinfecting Your Home

Once you’ve taken your steps to clean your home or office, it’s time to disinfect. MaidPro’s Melissa Homer and Joanna Martin, owner of Winston-Salem Cleaning Services have provided some very useful tips for disinfecting. Both note the importance of focusing on high touch areas and easy transition paths that can spread disease.

One easy transition path that is overlooked is actually disinfecting your tools, like vacuum tools, brushes and dusters. Also, make sure that you are using chemicals appropriate for the surfaces you’re cleaning. Do not overuse chemicals. Using too much of chemicals does not make them anymore effective, can be a waste of resources and potentially harm your surfaces or you.

In your home, you’ll want to focus on four main areas: kitchen, bathrooms, living areas and bedrooms. The kitchen is probably the most used area in any home. After proper cleaning, the high touch surfaces that you’ll concentrate your disinfecting on are drawer and cabinet pulls, appliance (refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, oven) handles, push buttons on your appliances, faucets and countertops. Wipe down light and garbage disposal switches and garbage and recycling can lids.

Also, pay attention to the kitchen tables as chairs, especially arm rests. For kitchen surfaces, Joanna recommends Purell Foodservice Surface Sanitizer. This particular product has a short 30 second dwell time and does not need to be rinsed. Melissa recommends and all of the MaidPro franchisees use Spic n Span 3-in-1 Disinfecting All-Purpose Cleaner. Remember to read the label instructions for concentration and dwell time for whichever disinfectant product you choose.

Bathrooms

In the bathrooms, after proper cleaning, prepare a disinfecting solution and wipe down all of the frequently touched surfaces like faucets, drawer and cabinet pulls, light switches, appliances (hair dryers and irons), counter tops and grab bars.

Joanna recommends Lemocide from Total Solutions. Maidpro recommends Comet Disinfectant Bathroom Cleaner. Shower curtains and bath mats and rugs should also be disinfected. This can be achieved in the washing machine with high heat and bleach (if safe for the fabric) or other laundry disinfectant.

Living Rooms

For your living areas like family rooms, living rooms, hallways and other high trafficked spaces, Focus disinfecting on tables, chairs, sofas and the push buttons of TV’s, remote controls, lamps, switches, door handles and frames, railings and banisters.

For porous surfaces like curtains, seat cushions, fabric sofas and chairs, Joanna recommends Lysol Disinfectant Spray. If you’re trying a new disinfectant and are not sure if it’s safe for a surface after reading the label, test it in an inconspicuous area.

Bedrooms

Once bedrooms have been dusted, vacuumed and the linens washed and changed, use your disinfectant to wipe down all surfaces, including dressers, night tables, light switches, drawer and cabinet pulls, door knobs, and remote controls. To effectively clean electronics like remote controls, it’s best to spray your cloth with disinfectant and blot the control or other electronics onto the cloth instead of spraying directly onto the electronics.

Keep in mind that some surfaces may be too delicate or sensitive to water damage to be fully disinfected, like furniture painted with non washable paints or made with fine antique wood. In these cases, cleaning still provide a significant reduction to germ exposure and most disinfectant have a sanitization claim that requires far less dwell time. So read the back of the bottle carefully to see if you can use a shortened dwell time on these delicate surfaces to provide at least some germ kill without risking surface damage.

Armed with the knowledge of cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing, you're now equipped to transform your living space into a haven of cleanliness and hygiene. Remember, cleaning is about removing dirt and grime, disinfecting targets harmful pathogens, and sanitizing reduces the number of bacteria on surfaces. By understanding these differences, you can tailor your approach to achieve the level of cleanliness your space deserves.

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