To reduce the threat of quat binding, custodial executives must train staff on the pros and cons of various disinfecting techniques. There are three ways disinfectants can be applied to surfaces.

Spray and wipe: Directly applying disinfectant to the surface eliminates the potential of quat binding. Unfortunately, there are several downsides to this method, including difficulty covering hard-to-reach areas, and overspray and inhalation of the chemical.

Dip and wipe: In this method, a dry cloth is dipped into disinfectant for a few seconds and then excess solution is wrung out. While it can initially reduce the problem of quat binding, absorption can still occur over the time that the same cloth or mop is used.

Soak and wipe: A common approach for disinfecting is to soak cloths in the quat solution for 10 minutes (or for many hours) before use. The biggest concern about this approach is the cloth has time to absorb quat from the entire bucket of solution.

Quat binding is not visible to the naked eye. This means that no matter what method is used for applying disinfectants, there are no signs one can look for in hopes of avoiding absorption problems.

“Therein lies the problem — the person using the disinfectant has no idea when it becomes ineffective, so they go along their merry way in blissful ignorance, while people continue to get sick because the solution was ineffective,” says Scherberger.

So what can be done? First, although quat binding can’t be seen, its occurrence can be detected using a special test kit. Inexpensive quat test strips are available through distributors or online.

“The disinfectant should be tested, first with no cloths, mops or rags present,” says Hicks. “If the test strip verifies the solution has the available ppm matching the product label, that is good.”

Once the solutions passes muster, add mops, cloths, or rags to the verified chemical and retest in five minutes. If the test strip now reveals that the solution is no longer within the label’s ppm, the quat is off label and useless as a disinfectant, Hicks says.

Another important step in preventing quat binding is to evaluate your cleaning tools. Quats and cotton simply don’t mix, so it’s important to rid custodial closets of one or the other. Switch to hydrogen peroxide cleaners if you want to keep cotton, Hicks says.

Rather than using cotton mops, terrycloth towels or t-shirt type rags for cleaning, use microfiber or micro denier textiles with quat cleaners.

“There is a small amount of quat binding with these textiles, but the amount is so insignificant it is a non-issue,” says Scherberger.

Although Health Central Hospital’s Cooper isn’t well versed in quat binding, he switched his team to microfiber quite some time ago. 

“Our tests have shown that microfiber is a better cleaning tool for the removal of surface dirt,” he says. “Cotton just moves dirt around. Microfiber really grabs and holds on to any bacteria and removes it from the surface.”

Cooper is not only happy with the performance of the microfiber, he’s happy his decision to use the textile improves the efficacy of his chemicals.

To further simplify the process, some manufacturers offer wipes made of textiles that are less likely to absorb quats. Others offer quat disinfectants at concentrations sufficient to compensate for quat absorption. These products are diluted at such a level that even after textiles have absorbed the quat, there is still a sufficient concentration of the chemical to meet Environmental Protection Agency regulations for disinfectants.

Manufacturers can also be a pivotal resource for managers in need of training assistance on the proper tools and procedures for using quat cleaners.

“There are a lot of good manufacturers’ training videos and procedures available, so use them,” says Deone Johnson, system environmental services manager at Marshfield Clinic, New Auburn, Wisconsin. “All shifts should be covered and any department that is involved in any cleaning at all.”

Because of their cost and effectiveness, quat-based chemicals aren’t going away anytime soon, which means, quat binding will continue to plague departments. With the focus on disinfecting so high, managers should guarantee proper disinfecting by taking a second look at chemical dilutions, textiles and application methods.

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