Cleaning for Health-What You Can’t See, Can Hurt You (Part 2)

As you can plainly see, the “unseen enemy” can be very frightening and threatening to the unsuspecting or unarmed person.  But, with science on our side, we can develop some hands-on infection prevention strategies.

Introducing Hands-on Infection Prevention Strategies

Although cleanliness may be next to godliness, it’s also very closely related to disinfection.  In fact, cleaning can avert the need to disinfect in some situations because clean and dry surfaces can’t harbor microbial growth for very long.

A disinfectant kills existing microbes. However, depending on the pathogen, preventing the microbes from getting a foothold by removing food and moisture (two essentials for sustaining living organisms) may, in the long-term, be as effective as a chemical disinfectant.  In fact, most chemical disinfectants can’t do their job when high levels of organic soil are in the way. Soil can absorb the active ingredient, provide more places for the germs to hide, and change the chemical nature of the disinfectant.

By removing the organic soil with an appropriate cleaner, you give the right disinfectant a much better opportunity to kill the target bugs.



When it comes to prevention and control of infections the best advice I can give you is advice your mother gave you as a child, “Wash your hands!”

Most microorganisms get into your body because you touch something (or someone) contaminated, the touch you nose, mouth or eyes with soiled hands. Getting germs off your hands by rubbing and rinsing with regular hand soap and water for 20 seconds, paying attention to the finger tips and nails, helps prevent this from happening.

Use paper towels as a barrier when you turn off faucets and open the rest room door after you wash your hands appropriately.

If you every find yourself a patient in a hospital, ask that staffers wash or sanitize their hands while you watch.  Also, don’t let anybody walk in with gloves already on and touch you or anything in your room.  You don’t know where those gloves or hands have been.


Removing Soil

Washing or scrubbing a surface physically removes soils and organic material such as blood and body fluids, and takes with it all the germs.

The guiding principle is always to remove germs if possible, rather than kill them, and then, when necessary, use the least amount of the mildest chemical that will do the job, because stronger often means more toxic to people.

To reduce airborne dust and germs, wet dust horizontal surfaces daily with clean cloths pre-moistened with a hospital-approved disinfectant or disinfectant wipes, use vacuums with HEPA filters, and regularly clean and maintain equipment to ensure efficient particle removal.

Best practice-Minimize contamination of cleaning solutions and cleaning tools. Bucket solutions become contaminated almost immediately during cleaning and continued use of the solution transfers increasing numbers of microorganisms to each subsequent surface to be cleaned. Cleaning solutions should be replaced frequently.  A variety of “bucket” methods have been devised to address the frequency with which cleaning solutions are replaced. Another source of contamination in the cleaning process is the cleaning cloth or mop head, especially if left soaking in dirty cleaning solutions. Laundering of cloths and mop heads after use and allowing them to dry before re-use can help to minimize the degree of contamination.  A simplified approach to cleaning involves replacing soiled cloths and mop heads with clean items each time a bucket of detergent/disinfectant is emptied and replaced with fresh, clean solution.

Some great tools to battle microbes include:

  • Steam and vapor devices, which sanitize, and in some cases, disinfect without the use of chemicals.
  • Spray-and-vac technology, which removes, rather than kills, microbes. Why kill them when you can physically remove 99% of them by high-pressure water and vacuuming them away?


Utilizing the Magic of Microfiber

One of the greatest cleaning weapons in the war against harmful micro-organisms is microfiber (ultra-fine synthetic fibers woven into cloth0, in the form of mops and cleaning cloths.  In the same way that a terrycloth towel is more absorbent than a cotton t-shirt because of its thousands of tiny loops, microfiber tools supply more aggressive cleaning action because they have increased surface area and holding space for micro-soils.

Microfiber helps physically remove the food and moisture necessary for micro-organisms to survive, but better grades of microfiber (those with very dense weaving and fiber configuration) can even remove large quantities of microbes, including hard-to-kill spores.  Use microfiber with a disinfectant solution for best results against germs.



In summary, cleaning for health rather than aesthetics will always set you apart from those who are more concerned about appearance than the safety of the building’s occupants (be they patients, students, office workers or the public in general).  To clean for health one needs to know the enemy and then the weapons to the fight that will insure victory. 

We have discussed the enemy (bacteria, fungi and viruses) and have laid out several strategies for defeating them by removing them along with the soil that gives them all they need (food, moisture and air).

When you are involved in the cleaning industry, whether on the front lines or planning the battle strategy, you must remember that lives are at stake.  We must win the war against the unseen enemy.

About Darrel Hicks

J. Darrel Hicks, B.A., is the author of Wiley Publishing's "Infection Prevention For Dummies", and is nationally recognized as one of the top experts in infection control. Darrel Hicks is also the Past President of the IEHA and is an active member in AHE where he holds the designation of CHESP. View all posts by Darrel Hicks

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