In most cleaning situations that require us to kill pathogens, a disinfectant product gets the job done. A good cleaning removes many of the pathogens that we want to contain. But it’s the stuff that gets left behind that tends to reproduce, thusly re-polluting the surfaces we’re trying to keep clean.

From a practical standpoint, it’s important to remember that it is usually impossible to kill everything on a surface. The only way to truly accomplish this is to use a sterilization process, much like hospitals use for medical devices or labs use for clean rooms. Our goal, therefore, is to maintain clean, dry surfaces and manage pathogen levels so they are contained.
Most custodial operations can accomplish this using a disinfectant product.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a scheduled and thorough cleaning of doorknobs, sinks, toilets and other commonly touched surfaces is the first step in preventing the spread of pathogens. These surfaces are known as fomites, which are simply defined as any surface or contact point that has the potential to harbor pathogenic microorganisms. Professional cleaners should be diligent in their understanding of fomites and how to prevent their spread.

So, how do we know if the chemical we’re using will kill? It will have a registration number from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For a chemical to make a kill claim, it has to meet the kill test criteria set by the AOAC (Association of Official Analytical Chemists). Once it has been determined to meet this criteria, the chemical is given an EPA Reg. No. (EPA Reg# 12345-67). Commercially available disinfecting products must register their effectiveness claims with the EPA.

This is where things get a little tricky. Managers must not confuse an EPA registration number with an EPA establishment number (EPA Est# 12345-CA-2). They are two very different things. The establishment number is a unique identification number where a product, formulation or device is produced.

Sound confusing? It is. To simplify, just remember that the registration number means the chemical has been tested and registered for kill claims. No registration number, no effective kill claim.

With this in mind, there are four important points managers must remember when targeting pathogens:

• Use the right product. It is best to use an EPA registered disinfectant with a broad-spectrum kill claim. This is also colloquially referred to as “hospital-grade” or “institutional-grade.” Those terms typically are referring to chemicals with the broadest kill efficacy.

• Include disinfection in your daily schedule. In general, the areas that cleaning departments should be most concerned about are restrooms and touch points (light switches, door knobs, etc.). Be sure to disinfect these areas at least once per shift and as needed depending on the amount of traffic your facility receives.

• Understand mixing. A disinfectant in concentrated form will not kill more, and depending on its chemistry, may actually damage or coat surfaces. Effective kill claims are typically based upon the diluted usage, so be sure to understand the proper mixing guidelines.

• Understand sequence of work. Disinfectants need to be applied to pathogens to be effective. Therefore it is crucial to make sure that areas are free of dirt, oil, debris and other soils. It may be necessary to change the sequence of work to clean surfaces first before disinfecting them. 
Ben Walker is the Director of Business Development for ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA’s best selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks.