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Cleaning: Why Words Matter

Sam Greaves, managing director of the Cleenol Group, explains the importance of understanding the different terminologies used within the cleaning industry.

Different industries have different hygiene requirements, and since the onset of the pandemic, ensuring optimum hygiene standards is more of a concern than ever before. Within the professional cleaning industry, the terms ‘cleaning’, ‘sanitising’ and ‘disinfecting’ are regularly referred to, sometimes incorrectly and so it’s key to understand that there are important distinctions to be made between them.

Cleaning defined

‘Cleaning’ is defined as ‘the act of removing dirt or something undesirable’ or ‘the job or activity of keeping [something] clean’[1]. This act may generally remove microorganisms, marks or stains, impurities and dirt.

General purpose cleaners remove particles of dirt or debris etc, to make a surface appear clean. However, general cleaning products are not specifically designed to kill pathogens or germs that may cause illness. In order to combat these, the additional use of a sanitiser or disinfectant-based product will likely be necessary. Cleaning, however, is an essential important first step to remove particles before and steps in the disinfectant or sanitising process takes place.

Sanitiser defined

‘Sanitiser’ is defined as ‘a product for cleaning something so that there are no germs or bacteria on it’[2]. Sanitiser kills or deactivates most bacteria and fungi, and some viruses. Sanitiser has been commonly used during the Covid-19 pandemic. If a product reduces surface microorganisms by 99.9% within 30 seconds, public health standards consider the surface to be safe.

Disinfectant defined

‘Disinfectant’ is defined as ‘an agent that destroys or inhibits the activity of microorganisms that cause disease’[3]. Disinfectant destroys or deactivates microorganisms including fungi, viruses or bacteria with almost 100% efficacy (99.999%) on a surface within five to ten minutes.

Disinfectants can go beyond sanitiser in keeping surfaces safe, but their efficacy depends on the microorganisms they are used for. There can be millions of different microorganisms and pathogens present on a surface, so it’s important to choose the correct type of disinfectant to protect against the particular type of microorganism inhabiting the surface.

Contact Time

Key to the correct use of sanitisers and disinfectants, beyond the cleaning of the surface prior to application, is the right contact time with the surface that is being disinfected. Often products are used to quickly wipe down surfaces, but not all are effective at killing in a single spray and wipe movement. Best practice should always be to read the product label and check the contact time required to achieve maximum efficacy.

Cleaning, sanitising or disinfecting?

Different industries require different levels of cleaning, sanitising or disinfecting, depending on the types of microorganism and pathogen protection that is needed. Through the pandemic, however, hygiene and cleanliness has been stepped up and in certain environments, for example where vulnerable people reside in close quarters, an enhanced disinfection routine may be needed. And while the pandemic may have brought about new or improved hygiene routines, previous concerns – such as preventing the spread of a verruca infection on a gym floor or the transmission of food-based bacteria in a restaurant – still need to be addressed.





CAMFIL HVAC Filtration Solutions

Sam Greaves

Sam Greaves is MD and the fourth generation owner of The Cleenol Group, a manufacturer and supplier of commercial and industrial cleaning and hygiene products.

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