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What Does Disinfecting Really Do?

January 31, 2022
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What Does Disinfecting Really Do?

One of the common questions we get from clients is about how we disinfect surfaces at LACOSTA and what it actually means to disinfect a surface, to begin with. After all, while people outside of our industry commonly use the terms “disinfect,” “sanitize,” and even “clean” interchangeably, the reality is that these are all technical terms with very different meanings. Indeed, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even registers products across these various terms and sorts them into lists.

Our clients across the nation have become more concerned with these subtle nuances in language and terms on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has placed an increased emphasis on keeping workspaces clean and germ-free – of which disinfecting is an integral component.

This article will go over what exactly it means to disinfect a surface, define cleaning versus disinfecting, and cover why it is important for our clients and employers to maintain a healthy and clean working environment.

Understanding the Difference Between Products that Disinfect, Sanitize, and Clean Surfaces

As noted, the EPA actively maintains lists of products for “sanitizing” and “disinfecting.” But what exactly is the difference between these products, and why does it matter?

Cleaning Products

Cleaning products allow you to remove dirt and other organic matter from surfaces. They typically consist of soaps and detergents. However, while these products keep surfaces looking nice and clean, they don’t kill bacteria or viruses found on the surface of objects. This does not mean that cleaning products are not effective or useful (indeed, quite the contrary as they are an important component of any cleaning regimen), but it does mean that they need to be supported by other cleaning products and methods.

Additionally, while the EPA regulates products under the following two categories that we will discuss (products that sanitize and disinfect), they do not regulate products that are designed for cleaning, as they do not fall under the purview and role of the EPA

Sanitizing Products

Sanitizing products are more potent than the previous category and are able to kill many types of bacteria found on surfaces using chemicals (as opposed to soap or detergent). This means that they are more powerful and require greater care when being used than regular cleaning products.

Sanitizing lowers the number of microorganisms by about 3 log, which is typically acceptable for non-food contact surfaces. However, when dealing with more specialized surfaces, such as those for food, that require a higher reduction in microorganisms of 5 log, we have to seek out a more powerful sanitizer that can achieve that 5 log reduction. 

These products, unlike the last category, are registered and monitored by the EPA.

Disinfecting Products

Disinfecting products are the third component of an effective and sophisticated cleaning regimen and achieve a 6 log reduction in microorganisms. They add the ability for cleaning crews to mitigate and kill viruses (as well as certain bacteria) found on surfaces using special chemicals designed for the task. 

The EPA registers and monitors such products, and they even maintain a list of disinfectants that are effective against and can be used in combating SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 virus). The NList, as it is called, allows you to search through all the products the “EPA expects […] to kill all strains and variants of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) when used according to the label directions.” 

Naturally, we utilize products from this list at LACOSTA as part of our cleaning methodology to help keep our clients’ worksites healthy, clean, and safe for their employees and our janitorial crews. 

The Details of Disinfection

What is a Log Reduction?

A log reduction is a way of measuring the number of microorganisms that are removed by a cleaning product or method. A 3 log reduction, for example, would be a decrease in microorganisms of about 99.9% (so, if you were to start with 1 million microorganisms, there would be 1,000 remaining after a 3 log reduction). A 5 log reduction, on the other hand, would be a decrease in microorganisms of about 99.999% (so, this time, if you were to start with 1 million microorganisms, there would be 10 remaining after a 5 log reduction). 

As noted, disinfectants achieve a 6 log reduction, but there are still levels within this reduction that determine how powerful a disinfectant is. 

Levels of Disinfection

We can think about disinfection via various levels. Low-level disinfection, according to Diversey, is what can be considered as a ‘hospital disinfectant.’ This level of disinfection kills a large number of microorganisms when utilized, however, it leaves behind harder to kill viruses. This includes norovirus and rhinovirus (which causes about 50% of common colds), as well as Tuberculosis. 

Then there is what we might consider intermediate-level disinfection. This can be used to take out some of those harder to kill viruses we previously mentioned. 

Finally, there is high-level disinfection. This level of disinfection kills nearly all bacteria and viruses, but it leaves large numbers of spores behind. 

Why Do We Clean Before Disinfecting?

Cleaning is important as the first step before we disinfect surfaces. This is because cleaning helps remove microorganisms from that area. Even if it doesn’t kill them, we are still removing them by cleaning the area and getting them out of the way. Then, when we disinfect, the disinfectant is much more effective. 

For example, let’s say you have a surface area that has been contaminated by something with a trillion bacteria (this is what would be found in, for example, a gram or just a sugar cube size amount of poop). If you were to not clean the area and remove the contaminant, instead opting just to disinfect the area, you would only be killing 99.999% of the bacteria with log 5 reduction. Thus, there would still be a lot of bacteria and potentially harmful contaminants present. By cleaning the area first and removing many of these harmful bacteria first, then when you use the disinfectant it is much more effective in actually making the surface area safe since you are killing 99.999% of a much smaller number of bacteria that are now present. 

Indeed, disinfectants and sanitizers should only be applied to areas that have already been cleaned. This ensures that they are as effective as possible and can achieve what they are intended to. 

What is Sterilization versus Disinfection?

Sterilization is a much heavier duty reduction and kills essentially all organisms. This is more powerful than the high level disinfection we were talking about previously, which leaves spores present, which can be harmful in certain settings (such as a surgery table). 

What Sorts of Areas Need to be Disinfected?

Typically, the areas that you need to worry about most when disinfecting the workplace are high-traffic, high-touch areas where multiple employees are coming and going throughout the day. This includes areas like bathroom sinks, shared countertops and desks, door handles, light switches, handrails, chairs, elevator buttons, equipment handles, telephones, desktop keyboards, vending machine buttons, and anything else you can think of that employees are touching and interacting with throughout the day.

How Has COVID-19 Changed the Approach to Disinfecting?

When the COVID-19 outbreak first occurred, we assembled an internal emergency response team to respond to the rapidly evolving situation, which included our risk management partner, HUB insurance, our Senior District Manager, our Communication Specialist, and our HR Manager. 

Together, these individuals helped keep our employees updated on the latest protocols and information coming from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other authoritative bodies. We continue to stay up to date on the latest developments and trends to bring our clients the most current cleaning service protocols and procedures possible. 

Fortunately, LACOSTA has always used cleaning solutions that are on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) N-List – which, as previously noted, are disinfectants that are effective in killing the COVID-19 virus (as well as many other viruses and foreign contaminants that could impact the workplace). As a result, our employees already have plenty of experience using the products required to keep the workplace safe for employees, and we did not have to adjust the cleaning solutions and products we use on a regular basis or our approach to utilizing them.

That said, we did alter and adapt our approach to cleaning in a number of ways. First, we placed an emphasis on increasing the frequency with which we clean high-touch surfaces like the ones we previously discussed. 

We have focused on disinfecting these areas to reduce the spread of germs between employees. We also ramped up the number of cleaning shifts at many of our clients’ worksites, adding first shift cleanings in locations where there may have only been third shift cleanings in the past. This again increased the frequency with which we are able to clean and disinfect surfaces.

Plus, it helps increase the visibility of our janitorial crews to employees in the worksite, letting them know that their employer and LACOSTA are working hard to keep them healthy and safe.

Indeed, since we made these changes, we have seen an incredible outpouring of support from our clients, and it has had an incredible impact on workplace morale. 

“[LACOSTA] services is a critical component of keeping the Paris, TX Campbell’s facility open during the pandemic. You protect us from illness that would cripple our operation during a time our product is needed most. The [LACOSTA] team has not only performed flawlessly to date, they have been extremely responsive and flexible to our ever-changing needs. I cannot thank you enough for the solid work and personal dedication I have seen from the entire [LACOSTA] team even to the point of scouring local stores for supplies. Your performance has been outstanding and commendable. Thank you!” – Darren McIntire, Campbell Soup Supply Co. 

How Does LACOSTA Fit into the Equation? 

Utilizing a janitorial services partner and outsourcing the task of keeping your workspace clean is one of the most effective ways to tackle the job of maintaining a clean working environment. This gives you and your business one less thing to worry about since we work tirelessly to stay up to date with the latest health standards and developments.

At LACOSTA, we specialize in working with a broad range of industries, including manufacturing plants, office spaces, schools, hospitals, and more. Plus, we are compliant with a series of different cleaning standards, including the following: 

  • International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) compliance
  • Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) compliance
  • Decades of experience working with FDA and GMP-regulated environments

This training and compliance allow us to respond to just about any situation that may arise in the workplace, and it gives our clients the confidence that we will be there to assist them in any of their short-term or long-term goals and objectives. It allows us to build valuable and lasting relationships and partnerships with our clients that go beyond just being the worksite janitorial crew. 

As always, if you have any questions about our services, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us to learn how we work with our clients to maintain clean and healthy worksites across the country. 

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