Both cleaning and disinfecting are important for reducing the spread of viral illnesses. Some viruses may remain viable (living) for hours to days on surfaces. Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs, but by cleaning first with soap and water or your usual cleaner, it will lower their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.  Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. Disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs that remain on a surface after cleaning, disinfecting can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Before you begin ask yourself: “Do I need to disinfect, and is it necessary?” Disinfectants are widely misused and overused, including improper concentrations and solutions. More is not necessarily better-often, cleaning is all that is needed. Try using a fragrance-free soap/detergent and water or an all-purpose cleaner with Safer Choice, Green Seal, Ecologo or Design for the Environment (DfE) labels on the product. These labels are on environmentally preferable cleaning products and disinfectants that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment.

If you determine disinfection is necessary, use products registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) List N Disinfectants for Use Against SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 at the EPA website.

You can also look for products containing safer active ingredients such as ethanol, isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol), hydrogen peroxide, L-Lactic acid, and citric acid. Avoid sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and quaternary ammonium compounds, if possible; these ingredients can cause asthma.

Establish a specific, detailed list of items, surfaces, equipment, and locations to be cleaned and disinfected, and a schedule of how often that should occur. Identify “high-touch” areas that require frequent treatment. These include workstations, counter tops, light switches, railings, doorknobs, and equipment such as printers and copy machines. Also identify any other areas that should be frequently cleaned such as bathrooms.

Many chemical disinfectants can be harmful to workers if they are unsafely handled and/or improperly used. Therefore, it is important that disinfectants are selected and used properly to ensure effective disinfection and avoid harm to individuals and damage to surfaces. Proper use of disinfectants should include:

  • Selecting the appropriate disinfectant based on the type of surface to be disinfected (e.g., hard surface, soft surface, electronics, fabric, etc.)
  • Providing employee training on the potential health hazards of the cleaning and disinfection chemicals used
  • Following manufacturers’ instructions and product label directions for safe, effective use
  • Wearing personal protective equipment (such as gloves and eyewear) appropriate for the chemicals being used
  • Using the proper concentration and application method
  • Making sure to follow the required contact time (i.e., the amount of time the surface should be visibly wet) following application
  • Storing and using disinfectants in an appropriate manner according to the label. Ensure that ALL containers used to measure, store, transport, mix, and apply cleaning agents and disinfectants are properly labeled as to the contents, product name, and concentration if diluted. For example, all spray application bottles must be properly labeled with the product name and end use concentration
  • Keeping all disinfectants out of the reach of children
  • NEVER mix disinfectants with cleaners, other disinfectants, or other chemicals
    • Mixing some chemical disinfectants with other chemical substances could be hazardous. For example, the toxic gas chlorine can be released if you mix sodium hypochlorite (bleaching solutions) and acidic cleaning agents.
    • Mixing a disinfectant with anything else could change its properties and it may no longer be effective.

Do not forget to evaluate the plan. Get feedback from people using the products and from those in the spaces where they are used and adjust your procedures as need. For more information and resources contact your ESD 112 Loss Control staff.