Cleaning a surface is not the same as disinfecting it. In fact, there's a difference between cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and sterilizing. We'll describe these difference below as well as the proper way to do each.
What's the Best COVID-19 Disinfectant?
The EPA has an online list of disinfectants that they expect to be effective against COVID-19. These disinfectants have been tested and proven effective against viruses that are similar to or are tougher to kill than COVID-19.
Here is the link to the list: List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2.
Many of these disinfectants can be purchased at your local store. To check if a disinfectant is on the EPA's list, look up the product's EPA Registration Number. There's a handy search box you on their site you can use to do this. It's better to look up the registration number because you'll find the exact product versus a similar product that may use a slightly different formulation that doesn't work the way you want it to.
What's the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?
Many people think that if a surface is clean, it's clean enough to eat off of. But, just because you can't see the germs, bacteria and viruses doesn't mean they aren't still living on the surface. You'll need to sanitize, disinfect or sterilize the surface. In fact, there are strict definitions for each of these terms.
A cleaner will help you break down the dirt and grime on a surface so that you can remove it. Even water is considered a cleaner because it helps dissolve soil so that it can be wiped up with a towel or rinsed down the drain. It doesn't mean the surface is free of germs though. It's just a way to remove visible messes from a surface.
Sanitizers lower the number of bacteria on a surface to a point that is considered safe by public health organizations - they don't kill the bacteria though. It's important to clean a surface of dust, soil and grease before applying the sanitizer because these things will inactivate the sanitizer.
When using sanitizers on surfaces that will come into contact with food, make sure to read the label to ensure the sanitizer is safe for these surfaces. Sanitizers also need to sit on a surface for a minimum amount of time to kill the bacteria. This is referred to as the kill time.
Disinfectants will kill fungi, bacteria, and viruses that live on hard surfaces. A hard surface is a surface that is non-porous or won't absorb liquids. For example a doorknob is a hard surface. Sealed counters as well as glass are hard surfaces. Things like bare wood or wood that has had its finished worn out would not be a hard surface. Some counters like stone may actually absorb certain chemicals. It's best to read the instruction on your disinfectant to ensure it can be used on natural stone surfaces.
A disinfectant will not kill bacterial spores. A bacterial spore (in very simple terms) is a dormant structure that helps the bacteria survive. Not all bacteria have spore though - thank goodness!
Destroys, kills, or permanently inactivates viruses from surfaces. Virucides typically accomplish this by destroying the protein shell (armor if you will) or penetrating the core of the cell. Virucide chemicals can only claim to kill the specific viruses listed on their labels. So make sure you check before using it to ensure it's going to work on whatever you're trying to kill. Virucides also have a kill time so make sure you're letting it sit on the surface long enough to work. We already recommend cleaning the surface of any visible debris before applying the virucide.
In short, a sterilant kills everything! Sterilizing something is usually done by exposing it to high heat such as in the dishwasher, boiling it or microwaving it. Or soaking it in a chemical solution for a certain amount of time.
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