Beyond the Products

How disinfectants work best to kill viruses: A comprehensive guide

To keep your employees and the individuals who use your facilities safe, you want to kill any viruses or bacteria that can impact their health. This requires you to use the correct disinfectants, understand how they work, and take any necessary safety precautions when you and your employees use them. If you feel uncertain about how disinfectants work best to kill viruses, look no further.

In this article, we will review why disinfectants work best to kill viruses, which kinds of disinfectants kill viruses, and how to use them. We also note the precautions that you should take when using these products—since all disinfectants have some element of risk. After reading this guide, you should feel confident about cleaning and disinfecting the surfaces in your facility.

Why disinfectants work best to kill viruses

On a personal hygiene level, handwashing serves as the most effective way to prevent the spread of viruses. However, regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces provides an extra layer of protection. By initiating a proper disinfection strategy, facility managers can protect employees, students, and customers.

Why do you need a disinfectant in addition to a cleaner to kill viruses?

First, we need to define the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning refers to the removal of dirt, grime, and germs from the surfaces of objects. While cleaning does not kill germs, this process still reduces the spread of disease. As we will discuss in more depth later in this article, this initial step also helps your disinfecting product perform more effectively.

After cleaning, disinfecting does the important job of eradicating any remaining germs on the surface. Most disinfectants attack on the cellular level—destroying virus cell structures and protective fatty casings. Combined with effective cleaning, properly disinfecting a surface can go a long way in preventing the spread of disease.

How often do you need to use a disinfectant to keep a surface free of viruses?

To determine how frequently you should disinfect surfaces, consider whether the surfaces are in high-touch areas. In an office setting, people are constantly touching doorknobs, faucets, desks, light switches, and, yes, even the office coffeepot.

Studies have shown that germs from one infected area can spread to the majority of an office within hours. To best protect workers’ health during a pandemic, remove any unnecessary high-touch objects from your building. Also, be sure to disinfect remaining surfaces more frequently. You should disinfect surfaces in high-traffic locations daily or even hourly when possible.

We recommend creating a disinfection schedule. This schedule will ensure you have regular times to clean and disinfect—whether you are dealing with a global pandemic or not. Disinfecting high-touch areas at least once daily should be part of this schedule. For lower traffic areas, such as private offices, create a routine that ensures at least weekly disinfection.

How quickly does a disinfectant work to kill a virus?

If you look at disinfectant labels, you will notice that they make various claims about the germs that the product will kill. In order to live up to its “kill claims,” each disinfectant product requires different dwell times. Properly defined, dwell time is the minimum duration a chemical must stay wet on a surface in order for it to live up to its kill claim for a defined class of germ.

For example, bleach generally has a dwell time of about ten minutes. If you apply bleach or a bleach solution to a surface, it needs to have at least ten minutes of contact with the surface. Otherwise, it will not live up to its kill claims for germs.

Since each chemical and disinfectant has a different set of dwell times, read the labels on all of your disinfectant products. Each label should list the dwell times necessary to kill different microorganisms.

Also, please note that a disinfectant may have different dwell times for different concentration levels or purposes—such as killing bacteria or viruses. For example, hydrogen peroxide has a wide range of dwell times for different concentration levels and killing different germs.

Again, understanding the dwell times of your disinfecting products will ensure you can effectively disinfect surfaces. So read your labels and follow directions accordingly.

Kinds of disinfectants that kill viruses

Sometimes it feels like you need a chemistry degree to understand the different types of disinfectants on the market. No fear! To make this information more accessible, we break down the different types of disinfectants below.

What are EPA-approved hospital disinfectants that kill viruses?

The EPA has three classifications of registered disinfectants. These classifications are hospital disinfectants, broad-spectrum disinfectants, and limited disinfectants. To qualify as hospital grade, a disinfecting product must have proven efficacy against two key bacteria—Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus.

To determine whether your disinfecting product qualifies as hospital grade, you can look up the product’s EPA registration number in the EPA’s database. An EPA registration number (EPA Reg. No.) appears on every registered disinfectant product sold in the United States. You can typically find this number on the product label along with instructions for the product’s use.

Currently, the EPA does not revisit or revaluate the efficacy of a disinfecting product after initially adding it to the organization’s approved list of disinfectants. This is a source of concern because it is possible for germs to evolve to resist disinfectants.

To address this concern, the EPA announced the creation of the new Antimicrobial Performance Evaluation Program (APEP) in October 2019. APEP will establish a more rigorous evaluation process and a framework for periodic evaluation of disinfectants. However, this program will not launch until at least 2022.

How many kinds of disinfectants kill viruses?

You can find five primary disinfectants on the market today: alcohols, chlorine compounds, hydrogen peroxide, phenolics, and quaternary ammonium compounds. Each of these disinfectant products have different levels of efficacy against different microorganisms.

Alcohols, such as ethanol and isopropyl alcohol, are common in many disinfectants. Most types of hand sanitizer and many disinfecting wipes, for example, use alcohol as their active ingredient. However, alcohol-based disinfectants require a lengthy dwell time, up to ten minutes. They also evaporate quickly. Because of this, you should monitor your use of this type of disinfectant closely.

You can find chlorine compounds, including bleach, quite easily in many stores. Bleach is affordable and can act as an influenza disinfectant—it effectively fights the coronavirus. However, you need to take important safety precautions when using bleach. Never, ever mix bleach with other cleaning products or chemicals, such as vinegar or ammonium. Mixing these chemicals can create a highly toxic gas and cause hospitalization or death.

Hydrogen peroxide makes another great disinfectant. While you can find this chemical in many commercial and household disinfectant products, it also plays an important role in wastewater treatment plants.

Phenolics have one of the widest ranges of efficacy among all consumer disinfectants. They can kill many virus strains, bacteria, and fungi. Like bleach, however, these disinfectants have a highly corrosive nature. As such, be sure to handle them properly.

Like phenolics, quaternary ammonium compounds (casually known as “quats”) are very effective against germs. However, these compounds come with a unique disadvantage: “quat binding.” This occurs when the active ingredient, quaternary ammonium chloride, attaches to cleaning fabrics instead of contaminated surfaces. To prevent quat binding, use quat-safe cloths and mops to ensure the disinfect attaches to the surface that you are cleaning—rather than your cleaning tool.

Which surfaces are most easily disinfected?

Custodial staff will have the easiest time disinfecting flat nonporous surfaces without grooves or crevices. When the surface of an object is flat, you can easily cover the entire object with disinfectant.

In contrast, objects with uneven surfaces and grooves, such as keyboards, are more difficult to disinfect. It is especially important to clean these objects, however. This is because grooves can easily collect and harbor bacteria and virus strains.

How to use disinfectants to kill viruses

Here at Spruce Industries, we want you to use the best products for your disinfecting needs. But we also want to make sure you use these products effectively. Whether you are disinfecting a school or office building, you should always keep in mind one key principle—clean and then disinfect.

What do you need to do to a surface before disinfecting it to kill viruses?

Always use good cleaning products to clean surfaces before disinfecting. Bacteria and virus strains love living in dirt, grime, dust, and grease. By cleaning surfaces, you remove any active germs. Importantly, by eliminating surface debris, you also eliminate dirty environments that facilitate viral or bacterial growth.

When cleaning, always make sure you follow the labels on your cleaning products. Also, be sure to let recently cleaned surfaces dry completely before you begin disinfecting with any antimicrobial products.

How do you disinfect surfaces for the coronavirus?

Before cleaning and disinfecting, facility managers should make sure they are using a registered disinfectant found on the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2.

You can search for a product on List N by using the EPA registration number listed on the product labels. To help you understand this registration number and guide you through the process of searching for products on List N, we created this tutorial video.

It is important to note that the EPA’s List N is more than just a list of disinfectants. It also includes the disinfection directions and dwell times you should follow for each disinfecting agent. Again, we need to emphasize that dwell time plays a highly important role in disinfecting surfaces.

How much disinfectant should you use to kill viruses?

You should take two things into consideration when you use disinfectants to kill viruses. First of all, make sure you apply enough disinfectant to meet the dwell-time requirements for the virus strain you want to kill. If a product evaporates before reaching its desired dwell time, you will need to use more product.

When spraying disinfectant, you may notice gaps between the droplets. Viruses can survive disinfection if they live in those gaps. Make sure you use enough product to prevent gaps between droplets on the surface you are disinfecting.

To reduce the risk of missing spots, we recommend wiping down surfaces with a disinfectant. Also, if you use a quaternary ammonium compound, make sure you use a “quat-safe” wiper to distribute the product effectively. Taking these steps will ensure you properly disinfect your environment.

Cautions about using disinfectants to kill viruses

Whether you are responsible for disinfecting a reception desk or a food preparation surface, you should make sure you and your staff take the appropriate level of caution. Below we outline some precautions everyone should take when using disinfecting products.

What safety precautions should you take when using disinfectants?

In order to take necessary safety precautions, you first need to understand what the safety concerns of a particular product are. We advise all facility managers and custodial staff to learn how to read a safety data sheet (SDS). OSHA requires chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers to provide SDSs for hazardous chemicals.

The SDS lists any dangers associated with the chemical and outlines precautions for safe handling, storage, and transportation. The sheet itself has sixteen sections, each with specific parameters and precautions. For complete breakdown of an SDS, we recommend viewing the overview on OSHA’s website.

What are the disadvantages of using disinfectants to kill viruses?

If you do not apply them with care, disinfectants can cause more harm than good. Because of their corrosive nature, some disinfectants, such as bleach, are dangerous to cleaning and custodial staff. Along with some cleaning products, they can trigger allergic reactions, headaches, skin irritation, or shortness of breath.

When using any disinfecting product, be sure to check the product’s SDS and review the hazard statements. Additionally, be sure to follow all labels carefully. By understanding risks and potential hazards, facility managers can equip their staff with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.

Also, try to minimize the number of individuals present when you or your staff are disinfecting a surface. For low-traffic areas that you do not need to clean as frequently, consider scheduling time to clean and disinfect after business hours.

How can you be sure the disinfectant has killed any viruses on the surface?

Unfortunately, you can never be 100 percent certain you have killed all germs when you are disinfecting. You would need a very powerful microscope to see if any microorganisms lingered on surfaces. So instead, you need to trust the products you are using as well as your application process.

Product labels and efficacy sheets will help you make sure you are using the right products and applying them correctly. The information on efficacy sheets, for example, can help you determine which disinfectants kill which viruses. And the directions on product labels will help you determine the proper dwell time for a particular product.

Create a disinfecting strategy with Spruce Industries

When it comes to personal hygiene, we all know to wash our hands and use hand sanitizer. However, in a large facility or business complex, keeping surfaces clean and disinfected feels a lot more daunting. From bleach to disinfectant wipes to quats, disinfecting options can appear complicated. But that’s where Spruce Industries comes in. We partner with our clients to create a disinfecting strategy that fits their unique situations. Have questions about disinfecting agents? Not sure which products you need for your facility? We are here for you and ready to support your goals to provide a safe and healthy environment for your team

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