Using Common Sense in our Disinfecting Services
As most professional infection prevention companies have heard by now, the CDC recently “relaxed” its guidelines regarding the best defense against COVID-19. The agency does not recommend disinfecting every surface in sight and maintains that doing so can do more harm than good.
The updated guidelines recommend:
- Following proper cleaning protocols
- Cleaning surfaces, including before disinfecting when disinfecting is necessary
- Never spraying disinfectant in the air
- Disinfecting only high-touch surfaces and common areas in places “where strangers meet and where COVID-19 case rates are high, it’s not easy to wash your hands, or vulnerable populations are using the space. “
For many of us in the professional commercial cleaning industry, the updated guidelines come as no surprise. Many of us are breathing a collective sigh of relief while others wonder why the CDC waited so long to reverse its stance. Yet the “new” guidelines are not the reversal of the agency’s previous recommendations that some believe.
The CDC has always heralded the need to thoroughly clean and avoid needless disinfecting. Further, the CDC’s previous COVID-19 guidelines recommended disinfecting only high-touch points and areas with probable or confirmed COVID-19 exposure. Disinfecting was never recommended for seldom-used or outdoor surfaces/areas. In short, the agency continues to recommend following cleaning and disinfecting best practices.
If the CDC’s basic stance remains the same, why did the agency feel the need to update its guidelines? It was to stop—or at least help curb—the disinfecting madness, or, as The Atlantic first dubbed it, “hygiene theater.”
Infection Prevention and Hygiene Theater
So what is hygiene theater?
- Pictures of workers dressed in hazmat suits fogging everything from airplanes to sidewalks
- Videos of flight attendants armed with RTU formulas, spraying and instantly wiping tray tables without the dwell time necessary for the disinfectant to disinfect
- Nightly newscasts announcing that local schools will be closing their doors to “deep clean”—i.e., spraying disinfectant in every nook and cranny of their hallowed halls.
Let’s not forget the disinfecting innovations that have popped up without the backing of science, or, in some cases, going through testing, such as:
- Disinfecting or “sanitizing” tunnels covering folks with a disinfectant mist
- UV light devices delivering radiation of unspecified intensities for everything from rooms to cell phones
- Surface coatings purported to disinfect for up to seven days without discussion of the potential impact conditions such as temperature, humidity, and surface usage can have on them
- Microbial sprays that promise 24-hour protection without mentioning the word “virus”—not even in the small print.
Some of these innovations may well disinfect as promised. But, we have to ask, what are they achieving that cleaning can’t? And at what potential cost to human health, the environment, and even our bottom lines?
Cleaning Up the Professional Disinfection Services
Most of us in the industry have long known the facts when it comes to cleaning:
- Cleaning removes 90% of dirt, debris, and pathogens.
- Cleaning is sufficient for most surfaces. Even when it comes to COVID-19, cleaning alone is enough for surfaces with little or no exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Disinfecting should be reserved for high-touch surfaces, those that have had probable exposure to infectious diseases, and surfaces in certain healthcare settings.
- Cleaning must always be done before disinfecting.
- Cleaning is healthier for the environment than disinfecting.
- Cleaning, where disinfecting is not warranted, eliminates unnecessary chemical use and saves time, labor, and money.
Most of us are also aware of the facts surrounding disinfection:
- No one disinfectant is effective against all viruses and pathogens. A disinfectant must be EPA-approved to be effective against the specific pathogen(s) being targeted.
- All disinfectants used in the United States must be EPA-approved.
- Disinfectants must be allowed the proper dwell time, or the surface will not be disinfected.
- Disinfectants do not penetrate dirt and debris, which can provide a safe harbor for potentially harmful bacteria. Disinfecting without cleaning first allows pathogens to be shielded from the disinfectant and to multiply.
- Germs residing in cracks and crevices can be overlooked by disinfectants, especially in porous surfaces. This is why the agitation that is part of the cleaning process, such as scrubbing, vacuuming, or rubbing together of hands, is essential.
- Disinfecting without cleaning in between applications allows a sticky biofilm to form that attracts pathogens and enables them to thrive.
- Spraying disinfectant into the air can be dangerous. It can cause poor indoor air quality, aggravating upper respiratory conditions, and irritating eyes and skin.
- Disinfectants are chemicals and, like other chemicals, should never be used needlessly.
- There are times, surfaces, and environments (healthcare, for example) where disinfecting is necessary.
This last bullet is key. As industry leaders, it is up to us to know—and teach our staffs—when disinfection is and is not appropriate.
Tools of the Infection Prevention Trade
The renewed emphasis on cleaning and disinfecting only when necessary in the newest CDC guidelines makes it even more critical to ensure your team uses the most efficient, safe, and sustainable products and equipment available. Some of these include:
- HEPA filters. These should be used in air filtration systems to improve indoor air quality. In vacuums, HEPA filters maximize the removal of dust and small particulates.
- Microfiber. Mops and cloths should be made of high-quality microfiber, which has better pickup and absorbency than other materials. Dry dusting with microfiber can eliminate unnecessary chemical usage.
- Hands-free dispensers. Hands-free towel, soap, and other dispensers significantly reduce the potential spread of infection.
- Cleaning formulas. Proven just as effective as formulas containing quats and other potentially harmful chemicals, if not more so, hydrogen peroxide-based solutions are safer for humans and the environment.
- Electrostatic sprayers. When disinfecting is necessary, the safest means possible include electrostatic sprayers. This technology relies on positive vs. negative ions that attract disinfectant only to dry surface areas, which reduces disinfectant overuse.
The CDC may have updated its guidelines, but the common-sense approach to cleaning and disinfecting for infection prevention remains unchanged.
Do you need help creating a sensible cleaning and disinfection plan that will assure your building occupants’ safety? Let Allynt Solutions conduct an infection-prevention audit. Our certifications include Accredited Auditing Professionals (AAP), Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS), Certified Master of Infection Prevention for Environmental Services Professionals (CMIP), and Certified Sustainable Building Advisors (CSBA). Don’t leave infection prevention to chance. Contact us today.