Beyond the Products

Proper Way to Sanitize Surfaces

When it comes to cleaning, you hear a lot of buzzwords and phrases thrown around: “Kills 99.9 percent of germs!” “Powerful disinfectant!” “Sterilizes and sanitizes!” But how do you know which products and methods are the best for sanitizing surfaces?

How sanitizing is different from cleaning and disinfecting

The truth is that there are different levels of cleaning and disinfecting. The two terms themselves actually mean something different. While 99.9 percent may sound impressive, when you consider that there may be billions of bacteria and germs on a surface, that 0.1 percent can really make a difference.

The effectiveness of your sanitizing regimen relies on knowing the basic science of sanitizing and sanitizing products, the difference between sanitizing and just cleaning, what surfaces to focus on, and appropriate cleaning strategies for public buildings.

How often should sanitizing be done as part of a cleaning strategy?

If you run a small office with only a few employees, you can clean high-touch surfaces and hard surfaces like doorknobs, handles, and railings easily every day, while sanitizing the office once a week may suffice.

Larger organizations will inevitably require more frequent and elaborate cleaning and sanitizing procedures. For example, an ad agency may only need to sanitize their office every Friday, whereas a food processing facility should sanitize their location every day, even multiple times throughout the day depending on the type of products they’re handling.

The key to a successful cleaning strategy is consistency. A regular cleaning and sanitizing schedule is predictable and easier to maintain than an ad hoc system. It will also be more effective at ensuring your workplace surfaces are clean and safe for your employees.

What is the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting?

Many people use the terms “sanitizing” and “disinfecting” interchangeably, but in the United States, they both have clear legal definitions. A sanitizer is a substance that kills nearly all bacteria on a surface in a relatively short amount of time, typically about thirty seconds.

You’ll typically see products like hand sanitizers touting they kill 99.9 percent of bacteria. They don’t kill everything, but they get close. Meanwhile, a disinfectant is a substance that destroys all bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It takes a bit longer for the product to work, usually around ten minutes.

Hospitals and industrial settings use disinfectants more commonly in locations where that 0.1 percent of germs could mean infection for a vulnerable patient, whereas sanitizers and sanitizing solutions are less abrasive and better suited to the general public.

What is the difference between cleaning and sanitizing?

Think of it not as one or the other, but rather clean then sanitize. It’s like sweeping a floor before mopping it. Each can do a good job at cleaning the floor, but they complement each other when used in tandem. Cleaning surfaces with warm soapy water removes bacteria and other germs. Sanitizing then kills any remaining bacteria.

There is an abundance of sanitizing products on the market. They’re not all created equal, so it’s best to do your research about active ingredients and intended usage before buying.

What kinds of surfaces should be sanitized?

It’s easy for the prospect of sanitizing an entire workplace to overwhelm you and your staff, but it’s important to remember that not all surfaces are the same. Some get more use than others and should be a priority for any sanitizing plan. This overview of the different types of surfaces, available products, and best practices will ensure you’re able to rise to the challenge effectively and efficiently.

How does surface type affect the method of sanitizing you should use?

While hard surfaces and soft surfaces are easy to differentiate and require different sanitizing methods, it’s also important to adapt your methods and product use based on whether a surface is porous or nonporous. Glass, metal, and plastic are nonporous. Fabric, stone, and untreated wood are the opposite.

When in doubt, ask yourself whether water, liquid, or vapor can pass through this surface. If the answer is yes, it’s porous; if not, it’s nonporous.

Hard, nonporous surfaces can tolerate more abrasive cleaners like hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach. Meanwhile, porous surfaces may require special products (like specialized laundry detergents) or even need their own special treatments (like professional carpet cleaners) for you to properly sanitize them.

What kinds of surfaces should sanitizers be used on?

Kitchen or other food prep areas and bathrooms should be the primary recipients of sanitizers and disinfectants. You should first target countertops, kitchen appliances, and areas around sinks, including handles and faucets. In bathrooms, it’s best to begin with sanitizing or disinfecting high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, handles, and sinks.

It’s also important to remember that sanitizer potency can degrade over time. If you’ve had a bottle of chlorine bleach or other sanitizing solution sitting in the cupboard for six months, it won’t be nearly as effective as a brand-new bottle. Check the labels and follow all instructions on any product you’re using.

It’s easy to forget, but hand sanitizers also play a critical role in this ecosystem. Making sure it’s available and regularly stocked in food prep areas and bathrooms is another easy step to fold into your cleaning strategy. Going to the trouble to sanitize surfaces does little if you’re not also practicing and encouraging consistent personal hygiene.

How should you clean and sanitize food contact surfaces?

Washing surfaces with soap and water first, then following with a sanitizer, is the best practice for any food contact surfaces. Cleaning removes any food debris, fats, grease, or other particles, and sanitizing kills any germs and bacteria left behind.

Training employees on sanitizing procedures is integral in establishing and maintaining a foolproof system. Employees should understand the importance of cleaning and sanitizing, as well as know how to clean any specialty equipment and proper handling and use of cleaning and sanitizing products.

How to sanitize surfaces

There’s no shortage of products to choose from for cleaning and sanitizing hard surfaces. There are some important things to consider, though, to choose the right product for you and your business.

What should be used to clean and sanitize hard surfaces?

Chlorine bleach is a powerful disinfectant that can kill bacteria and viruses. You can dilute it with water and leave it to air-dry for the greatest effect. However, bleach solutions can be highly corrosive, especially on metal surfaces, and can stain fabrics. It’s also a known asthmatic, so it may not be ideal for anyone with existing respiratory conditions.

Any chlorine bleach solution is most potent when used within twenty-four hours of mixing. The dwell time, or how long the surface needs to be wet for maximum effect, is about five minutes. You can also let it air-dry.

Hydrogen peroxide is another popular disinfectant that you can use as an oxidizer, bleaching agent, and antiseptic. Unlike bleach, it is also useful to prevent cuts, scratches, and minor burns on skin from becoming infected.

Suppliers typically sell it in concentrations of about 3 percent. You can dilute it further to use it as a powerful disinfectant. The dwell time for hydrogen peroxide is about a minute before you can wipe it clean.

Both hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach are effective cleaning products for disinfecting hard surfaces. For best results, we always recommend thoroughly cleaning and rinsing surfaces beforehand.

How do you sanitize soft surfaces?

Soft surfaces like carpets, drapes, and uniforms require their own set of cleaners. You should launder items like drapes and uniforms on the warmest possible setting that won’t damage the fabrics. You can clean carpets with soap and water or hire a licensed professional cleaner to do the task if they’re in need of a deeper clean.

How long can viruses and germs live on different surfaces?

Temperature, humidity, and surface type all play a role. Viruses in particular can survive longer on hard surfaces like metal and plastic, hence the emphasis on consistently and thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing these materials. For example, bacteria like salmonella can survive for up to a day and a half on hard surfaces.

While the exact length of time can vary greatly, the main point to remember is that hard surfaces are especially conducive to drawing out the time frame. Porous materials like clothing and carpets can also harbor viruses and germs but are less conducive to their survival.

Because person-to-person contact is the easiest way for viruses and germs to travel, particularly from our hands touching various surfaces, it’s critical that every member of the workplace washes their hands regularly with soap and water, uses hand sanitizer when possible, and avoids touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

How to sanitize surfaces in public buildings

Cleaning public buildings in particular requires a sustained daily commitment. But with the right knowledge and tools, your business can create effective sanitizing procedures to safeguard public health.

What products should be used in sanitizing public buildings?

Soap and water are always the best first step in sanitizing public buildings, followed by a disinfectant. As mentioned earlier, disinfectants require time to sanitize surfaces. Dwell times for many effective products vary between two and ten minutes.

Look for EPA-registered disinfectants. These come with a registration number; you can check the EPA database for active ingredients, required dwell time, appropriate surface usage, and recommended facilities for use.

Always follow a product’s label and instructions for safe and effective use. Check expiration dates, and watch training videos available online. Ensure proper ventilation of disinfected areas before and after use.

What are the highest-traffic areas in buildings, and how often should they be sanitized?

The highest-traffic areas are where people gather or pass through. Conference rooms, lobbies, entrances, exits, and bathrooms all fit the bill. You should sanitize these areas daily, or more often if they feature many high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, desks, or railings.

Lower-traffic areas like private offices may suffice with a thorough cleaning once a week. It depends on their usage and how many people are going in and out. For example, if you regularly host team meetings in your office, you may want to sanitize surfaces in your office more frequently than once a week.

Additionally, every person can do their part by regularly washing their hands with soap and water, as well as using hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on high-touch surfaces with which they come into contact.

How often should food service areas be sanitized in public areas?

Public food service areas can be an especially complex realm to navigate. They feature high-touch areas, constant traffic, and optimum food temperature requirements and serving conditions to prevent the development and spread of bacteria and other germs.

As with any area in your business, cleaning and sanitizing these hotspots cost time and money. It’s important to create a system that both balances a regular and effective regimen with anticipated public use.

For example, sanitizing products require certain dwell times to be effective, meaning a temporary halt to the public’s access to food service areas. Look for naturally occurring opportunities. If there’s a change in service—from lunch to dinner, for example—that’s an ideal time to sanitize food service areas.

If there are no such opportunities, or public areas are in constant use, the National Restaurant Association recommends sanitizing every four hours.

Additionally, placing hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes near any public food service areas will give individuals the chance to supplement the cleaning and disinfecting strategies you’ve put into place.

If you understand the different terminology, available services and products, and best practices for each area and surface, workplace cleanliness and sanitizing surfaces don’t need to be daunting tasks. With the right information and tools, you can create a cleaning strategy in and around your workplace that you can perform efficiently and effectively—offering a public health benefit to everyone.

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