Disinfectants are an essential part of cleaning programs. The products reduce bacteria 99 percent and enhance the health of those living, working or visiting in various facilities. To disinfect as effectively and safely as possible, it’s important to use products according to their labels. Many contain chemicals that can be harsh, corrosive and dangerous if touched or inhaled.

Different types of disinfectants fulfill objectives unique to certain environments or facilities. Healthcare facilities require hospital-grade disinfectants, but those same products may not be required when cleaning offices or schools.

Disinfectants kill a wide range of bacteria and viruses, and to use them properly, cleaning objectives must be identified and targeted by the cleaning program, says Paul Ross, president of Central Paper Co., Birmingham, Ala.

“Disinfectants are important to use in office buildings and schools,” Ross says. “Because many people are located in these facilities, you want to kill the germs that they are exposed to.”

Cleaning and disinfecting are two separate tasks. To save time, some have turned to a combination of both to tackle restrooms and kitchen areas.

It’s best to limit the number of chemicals used in a building, says Jesse Ray, partner, Distinctive Maintenance, Inc., Livonia, Mich., and finding one chemical that cleans and disinfects is a plus.

Restroom cleaners, for instance, have to do double duty.

“Restroom cleaners must do more than just clean. They must disinfect toilets, urinals, sinks and floors,” Ray says.

In high-traffic facilities such as office buildings, it’s important to disinfect surfaces frequently touched by tenants and visitors, says Charles “Mickey” Crowe, senior project engineer for the south region of NISH, a national nonprofit agency that creates job opportunities for those with severe disabilities, in Kennesaw, Ga.

“Even surfaces such as flush valves, [and] soap dispensers in restrooms...can play a role in infecting others,” Crowe says.

In healthcare settings, guidelines should be more stringent.

“In a hospital setting, there’s usually an infectious control committee that sets the guidelines for selecting the right disinfectant,” Ross says. “You’ll probably use a phenolic-based cleaner for the operating room. A quat works well in that area, too.”

Phenolic disinfectants, also known as phenols, are bacterial, fungicidal and tuberculocidal disinfectants effective against enveloped viruses. They’re used where blood and body fluids are present, and destroy odor-causing bacteria on surfaces, but can be corrosive. Quat (quaternary ammonium chloride) disinfectants are used on bloodborne pathogens and are effective in destroying viruses and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Both are used in healthcare facilities.

“In the past, there has been an issue with harsh chemical disinfectants — especially with phenolics,” says Shawn Benjamin, vice president of sales at Sikes Paper Co., Atlanta. “Because of that, I believe the cleaning industry and the healthcare arena have gone more to quats. They’ve become safer to use.”

Most quat products offer the same quality of disinfection, Benjamin says.

“When trying to choose one quat product over another, keep that in mind,” he says. “But some do have different germicides or different surfactants in them that may make them clean a little better.”

Proper application of disinfectants is key to their effectiveness. Building service contractors commonly use mops and rags to apply disinfectants.

“Most people will mop the floors and also utilize a cloth or rag for disinfecting contact surfaces like door knobs, rails or handles,” says Ross. “You can use spray bottles, but you need to apply the disinfectant in a course or stream spray instead of a mist spray. A mist disperses particles in the air that can cause respiratory problems.”

Spraying the product directly onto a rag or mop gives an individual control of where the disinfectant goes and produces less waste, which serve the best interests of BSCs and building occupants.

Sikes Paper implemented a cleaning program in a large Atlanta hospital four years ago and found that microfiber flat mops can safely apply disinfectants without cleaning staff coming into direct contact with chemicals and without any cross-contamination, Benjamin says.

“And they can also save on the chemical because it’s not necessary to dump the buckets frequently,” Benjamin adds.

A clean, dry surface exposed to light and air makes for a hostile environment for most of the microorganisms that cause common illnesses that occur today. Effective use of cleaners and disinfectants can play an important role in making that environment healthy and germ-free.

Jodan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.