For applications in which there are heavy soil loads, cleaning is an essential first step before disinfecting against bacteria. But in facilities where budget cuts loom and time matters, unless heavy soils are present, Rothstein suggests forgoing the cleaning step and skipping right to disinfection.

Manufacturers stress that not all disinfectants are created equal and it is important for custodial managers to do their research before purchasing. Choose a disinfectant that is most appropriate for the application. The product label should specify areas where the product is most effective, as well as appropriate dwell times to meet kill claims.

This makes label-reading crucial to choosing the right product. Disinfectants will list the types of microorganisms they are effective against, including:
• Bacteria such as E. Coli, listeria, salmonella, MRSA and, in some cases, C. diff
• Viruses such as norovirus, influenza strains, HIV and Hepatitis B and C
• Mold and mildew
• Fungi such as Athlete’s Foot

“Disinfection works by destroying the cell wall of microbes or interfering with the metabolism,” Rothstein says. “There are several types: phenolics, quats and silvers. The phenolics are the oldest form of disinfectants, but are harsh and rarely used today. Quats are the mainstream disinfectants that everyone is using these days, and kill times can vary.”

On a pre-cleaned surface, most quat disinfectants have a 10-minute kill claim. But as products evolve and demand for more efficient cleaning times grow, manufacturers have developed disinfectants with kill claims as little as one minute.

Silver disinfectants are the newest types, featuring extended kill times as a result of a residual film left behind. Those extended kill times can reach 24 hours — though Rothstein says he’s seen a claim of nearly a month on one silver.

No matter which disinfectant is used, it is important to focus on high-touch surfaces to prevent the spread of bacteria. Touch points will vary by facility, but traditionally include door handles, phones, light switches, elevator buttons, vending machines, refrigerator doors, microwave buttons and handles, and faucets and flush handles.

Disinfectant can be applied using a spray bottle, left to dwell and then wiped off with a cloth. Disinfecting wipes can be used. They can make the job more convenient because the cloths are already pre-soaked in disinfectant chemical, but these wipes often have different dwell times, so it is important that managers train staff accordingly.

LISA RIDGELY is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis.

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