In the never-ending battle against dirt and germs, cleaners and disinfectants are the “green berets” — the tough-as-nails troops who move in swiftly behind the lines and effectively do the job for which they’re intended. These products, if used correctly, ensure that facilities are cleaned properly and enhance the health of those living or working in them.

Special Forces
How do disinfectants and disinfectant cleaners differ? By definition, disinfectants kill microorganisms, and disinfectant cleaners kill germs as well as clean. Disinfectants — and cleaners combined with disinfectants — usually cost more than general-purpose cleaners. They must be used according to label directions to be effective — they need to be diluted properly and must have a specific dwell time in order to kill harmful bacteria and viruses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires special procedures for the handling, use and disposal of these products. End users are subject to fines if they violate these regulations.

There are several categories of disinfectants. “These include quaternary ammonium chlorides (quats), chlorine bleach solutions, phenolic disinfectant cleaners and iodines,” says David Kawut, CEO, Supply King, Inc., Neptune, N.J. “They can be used in healthcare facilities where body fluids can be found, and in restrooms of any type of facility.”

Quats address blood-borne pathogens. They are effective in destroying harmful microorganisms, such as HIV viruses and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. They kill while cleaning the surfaces where the microorganisms are found — all in one step.

Chlorine bleach solutions are good at disinfecting, too, but aren’t as good at cleaning. They require that surfaces be cleaned prior to their use. This takes twice the amount of time it takes to clean and disinfect a dirty surface.

Phenols are used in healthcare facility areas where blood and bodily fluids are present. They address airborne pathogens, such as those that cause tuberculosis.

“Phenols aren’t as corrosive as chlorine bleach but they can damage floor finishes and sensitive flooring,” says Patrick Carson, owner of Green Diamond Distributors, Corpus Christi, Texas. “But you can use them in an aerosol spray for countertops.”

Iodines and similar compounds are effective disinfectants but can stain surfaces and corrode metals.

To work properly, a disinfectant cleaner must be diluted and then used to remove soils and kill germs all in a one-step application. Labor, time and money are saved, according to Ron Starr Sr., CEO, Hy-Ko Supply, Salt Lake City.

Starr says general purpose cleaners use surfactants and detergents that primarily emulsify oil. “Once the oil is emulsified, it goes into suspension in water, and dirt is released from the soiled surface,” he explains.

Choose Wisely
Choosing the right product for each type of job is crucial, as is using the correct dilution. “To do that, you need to know the territory,” says Starr. “In other words, you must know which products to use in specific areas within a facility and how to use them. That should be a priority.

“Use low pH, neutral cleaners when you’re going to burnish a floor,” he suggests. “If you don’t, you’ll find that the floor’s finish might be coming off. Use a high pH cleaner when you want to degrease. But don’t use degreasers on regular flooring,” Starr cautions. Degreasers can take the the oils right out of the floor and lead to permanent damage, he adds.

“If you use a disinfectant incorrectly in a hospital, you’re not going to kill harmful pathogens and will therefore put people at risk for serious illness,” Starr says. If disinfectants are not used in a school’s restroom, gym locker room, or cafeteria, for example, it can result in increased absenteeism. Because government money is granted to schools based on the number of students present, the more students out because of illness, the less money the school gets, Starr explains.

Disinfectants must be used to clean surgery rooms and other contaminated areas in hospitals or nursing homes, as well as surfaces in other public restrooms, says David Blundy, owner of Sunrise Supplies, East Peoria, Ill. “But in other areas, such as grocery store floors or school hallways or classrooms, standard cleaners should be used,” he adds.

When cleaning restrooms, use disinfectants on door handles, as well as toilets and sinks. But keep dwell time in mind. “Most people don’t realize that disinfectants require at least 10 minutes of dwell time to be effective,” says Blundy. “When we train customers, we emphasize that fact. If a door handle is sprayed and wiped off immediately, the disinfectant kills nothing.”

Green Diamond’s Carson tells his customers to avoid damaging a floor finish or sealer by using a neutral-pH general purpose cleaner when cleaning open floor areas. “These are generally cleaners with quats in the ingredients,” he says.

“Another important aspect of using these products correctly is making sure that housekeepers who use them receive adequate training,” Carson adds.

Don’t Skimp On Training
Training is vital, Blundy says. “Most facilities will tell you that they train their people on the proper use of these chemicals. By and large, though, they think that telling their people to read and follow the directions on product labels is sufficient. We don’t think so.” He says his company makes a point to train its customers at least once or twice a year on proper use of chemicals.

Supply King’s Kawut also believes in the importance of training. “Properly training custodial staffs will ensure effective cleaning. Vendors can be great assets for facilities if they help train the custodial people,” Kawut says.

“It’s a great value-added service, too,” he continues. “Vendors offering in-service training for their customers’ employees can enhance their chances of closing a sale. Customers and prospective customers continually ask about other services they might be able to utilize.” Kawut says that in the past five years, he has spent 50 percent of his time training and 50 percent selling.

Properly diluting a cleaning chemical is another key to its effectiveness, according to Kawut. Chemical manufacturers determine the proper dilution rates for their products, he says.

“If you use too much or too little, their products won’t work,” says Starr. “If you use a disinfectant that specifies a quarter of an ounce per gallon, but use two gallons instead, it won’t be effective.”

There are many methods of diluting chemicals, says Kawut. “One is the traditional ‘glug’ method, which we certainly don’t recommend. That’s where you pour an estimated amount to dilute the concentrate and listen to it as it glugs into the container,” he says. “We tell our customers that one of three scenarios will play out with the glug system. They’ll either use too much concentrate, which will result in a poor or damaging cleaning job and money thrown down the drain; or they won’t use enough and the job won’t get done at all, or if they’re really lucky they’ll mix it perfectly. But chances are it will be the first two of those three scenarios.”

Most active ingredients in cleaning or disinfecting chemicals are activated by water, Kawut says. “Unless it’s diluted properly, the active ingredient remains inert. If half an ounce of active ingredient is to be diluted by a gallon of water, and you mix in one ounce instead, the active ingredient doesn’t work. You need the water to accomplish the proper dilution. That’s critical,” Kawut says. If the solution has too much chemical, surfaces are left sticky, leading to resoiling.

“Instead of using the glug system, we encourage them to use dilution control devices, and most of our facilities are following our advice.”

The Next New Thing
In looking at new products on the market today, Carson says he is aware that many people today are conscious of protecting the environment. “They want ‘green’ materials,” he says. “At the recent ISSA show, I observed that a number of manufacturers are touting so-called ‘green’ materials with hydrogen peroxide, so I’m considering carrying some of these new products.

“These disinfectants also have citrus-based d-Limonene ingredients added. They are versatile products.”

Starr is looking closely at the new disposable wipes. “They work,” he says. “I had a school phone me the other day, wanting to place them where children enter a cafeteria line to encourage them to clean their hands. Some supermarkets also use them to wipe the handles of their carts.”

Both Blundy and Kawut like the wipes for cleaning. “Microfiber wipes are some of the best things going right now,” says Blundy. “Microfiber is tremendous. It cleans well and it’s washable. You can launder a wipe 100 times or more before it loses quality.”

Kawut says the microfiber wipes have grown fast in the residential market. “I see them advertised constantly. But in the industrial world, they haven’t made as large an impact yet. We’re seeing them used more so in food service than in the jan/san area. That’s probably because at this time they can be costly.”

Know Your Cleaner
“Any good cleaner or disinfectant will do the job for you,” says Blundy. “But the problem is, many of the products differ in quality.”

Distributors should always be aware of the capabilities of the products they’re offering.

“Just because a product claims to be a good cleaner doesn’t make it a good cleaner.”

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.