Promoting Proper Use 

The future of professional cleaning lies in striking a balance between effectiveness and sustainability. By embracing innovation, exploring safer alternatives, and implementing responsible practices, the industry can move towards a future where disinfection goes hand-in-hand with environmental and human health. 

Although quats are classified by some as a harsher chemical, when used according to manufacturer guidelines, it is an admirable competitor to bacteria and viruses. But if used incorrectly, it can cause more harm than good. The latter can happen when the chemical is mixed with certain textiles during cleaning processes. 

Quats are positively charged ions while cotton and other natural textiles are negatively charged. Positive attracts negative and the result is the potential that at least a portion of the quat does not end up on the surface it is supposed to be cleaning.  

In fact, one study evaluated a cotton cloth that had been sitting in a cleaning solution-filled pail. The level of quat disinfectant remaining on that cloth had decreased by 50 percent after soaking for just 10 minutes — a phenomenon known in the industry as “quat binding”. That means the solution applied to the surface would contain only half of the parts per million (ppm) listed on the label.  

“As soon as the quat cannot perform as effectively, the quat disinfectant is off-label, and in violation of federal law,” says J. Darrel Hicks, BA, REH, CHESP, certified expert trainer and author. “Then, the disinfectant isn’t killing pathogens as it should and, in fact, may be producing microorganisms that are resistant to the disinfectant.” 

Unfortunately, these realities are not visible to the human eye, so quat binding could be happening without the frontline workers' knowledge.  

“Many people look at the solution to dealing with quat binding as being too costly or unimportant,” says John Scherberger, BS, CHESP, REH, principal at Healthcare Risk Mitigation in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “Failure to recognize the importance of the negative effects of binding is careless and shows indifference to the health of their staff and building occupants.” 

Quats can and do pose risks, but by following regulations and safety measures, BSCs can minimize risks associated with quats while still utilizing their disinfecting power. 

Jackson Silvanik is the Managing Editor for Contracting Profits, and lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky.