The Science of Disinfection: How to Combat Germs in the Workplace

by Lawton Brothers | Dec 19, 2023


Most of us use disinfectants daily, but most of us are unaware of how they work. The cleaning and disinfection process inactivates or destroys organisms that cause sickness and disease, but when done incorrectly, the efforts are ineffective.

The Difference between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

It’s important to recognize and understand the different processes used to keep your facility clean and safe. Many of these terms are used interchangeably but have very specific uses and outcomes.

Cleaning involves the physical removal of contamination from surfaces. Soaps and detergents bind to oils, soil, and organic material so it can be rinsed away. Some cleaners can disrupt the lipid components (e.g., the cell membrane or viral envelope) of certain pathogens. 

Sanitizing significantly reduces the bacterial contamination on surfaces to levels considered safe from a public health standpoint but does not eliminate all microorganisms. Sanitizers are most commonly used for food contact surfaces.

Disinfection destroys or inactivates most pathogens (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi) on surfaces. It is generally not effective against bacterial spores. Efficacy will vary by product and method. 

Sterilization destroys or eliminates all forms of microbial life, including bacterial spores. This involves the use of higher levels of physical or chemical processes (like extreme heat or liquid or gas sterilants) and is generally used for medical devices/equipment.

Proper Cleaning and Disinfection Process

All products and cleaners will have directions for use that should be followed exactly. However, all cleaning products should be used in a specific order, to ensure efficacy. 

1. Cleaner. All surfaces must be cleaned before you can disinfect. This will remove dirt and grime that can otherwise hide germs during the disinfection process. In many cases, a cleaner will inactivate a disinfectant, so using a cleaner at the end of your process will make the disinfection ineffective.
2. Use the right disinfectant product and method for the situation. Disinfection methods can involve a physical or chemical process (such as contact time, adding the solution to water, etc.). Both processes will result in the destruction or deactivation of microorganisms, but no single product or process works for all situations. Look for products that are proven to work against the specific pathogens you’re attempting to destroy, and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for use. 
3. Read the product label. There is a myriad of information on the product label, including what organisms the product can kill or inactivate, instructions for use, and any health and safety issues. The label will detail where and how to use the product, as well as the necessary contact time and any precautions that need to be taken.
4. Stay safe. All disinfection methods have health and safety concerns (for people, animals, or the environment). Personal protective equipment should be worn at all times when mixing or applying disinfectants and surfaces should be rinsed (after the appropriate contact time has passed) before allowing people or animals access.

Disinfect to Protect
This winter season, keep your employees and customers healthy with your cleaning regimen. Lawton Bros has a variety of disinfectants, sanitizers, and cleaners that are sure to leave your facility sparkling. Check out our online catalog or give us a call with your questions or to place an order today: 800.432.0813.
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