Soiled surface: Should you grab a wipe?

Finding surfaces such as counters and tabletops soiled is a regular occurrence in any type of care facility.
Finding surfaces such as counters and tabletops soiled is a regular occurrence in any type of care facility.

Finding surfaces such as counters and tabletops soiled is a regular occurrence in any type of care facility. In many cases, what housekeeping professionals do is to grab a disinfecting wipe and use it to “clean” the surface. The belief is that the disinfectant in the wipe will kill any germs and bacteria on the counter instantly, leaving it clean and safe.

While using a wipe is a fast and easy thing to do, as far as “cleaning” the surface, it has its failings. While the disinfectants in the wipe may successfully kill some pathogens, the problem lies in the fact that most of the soils and contaminants on the surface are still there. The wipe does not necessarily remove them. The surface may be somewhat cleaner and healthier, but not for long.

Here's the issue when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that housekeepers must keep in mind. In most cases – with one exception we will discuss later – it is a two-step process. Whenever disinfecting any surface such as light switches, counters, railings, etc., we must first clean the surface, removing the unwanted soils and pathogens, and then we must clean it once again using a disinfectant or sanitizer.  

Not only is this two-step process overlooked when cleaning with a wipe, it is also invariably overlooked when using traditional cleaning methods: a sprayer and a cloth. If the surface is wiped only once, organic matter that could spread disease still remains on the surface and it can interfere with the effectiveness of the disinfectant.  

We need to explore some of the ways a disinfectant works when used on a surface.Many housekeeping professionals believe that using the disinfectant wipe will “instantly” kill germs and bacteria on a surface. That is not completely accurate. Disinfectants are not designed to “instantly” kill anything. They must dwell on the surface for a few minutes in order for the ingredients in the product to work effectively. The necessary dwell time will be noted on the product's label.

Not only is this dwell time necessary for the ingredients in the disinfectant to work effectively, but we should know that soils on a surface are typically layered. It takes a few minutes for the disinfectant to break through all the layers to effectively kill germs and bacteria.

Steps to take

At this point, some housekeepers may have a perplexed look on their face.  How can they keep surfaces clean and healthy and not spend all day doing it? First, we are not suggesting banning the use of disinfectant wipes.  They can be effective, if only temporarily.  Because cleaning and disinfecting is a two-step process, it may prove healthier and more effective to use one wipe to essentially remove soils from the surface and then use another wipe over the same surface to help disinfect it.

If using a sprayer and a cleaning cloth, the first step is to make sure the cloth is microfiber. If we looked at the strands of a microfiber cloth under a powerful microscope, we would see that there are millions of tiny hooks that help collect soils and then hold them, removing them from the surface.  This makes them more effective than terry cloth towels at removing soils from surfaces.

Select multicolored microfiber designating one color for wiping and the other for disinfecting. Using a sprayer, cloth, and an all-purpose cleaner, clean the surface. Now, using a spray with a disinfectant and a different colored microfiber cloth, spray the area to be cleaned, wait the necessary dwell time, and then wipe clean.  

A third option, which is our exception to the two-step rule that also helps  speed up cleaning time, is the use of what are sometimes called “high volume flat surface cleaning systems.” Don't let this long name scare you.  Flat surface cleaning systems are actually a very easy way to clean flat surfaces.  

Water or a cleaning solution is applied to the surface; the area is then wiped clean with a specially designed microfiber pad; excess moisture is wiped from the surface using a squeegee. In tests by independent, accredited laboratories, it was found that more than 99% of the targeted bacteria on a surface were removed by one of these systems using just plain tap water, no chemicals or disinfectants whatsoever.

What housekeepers and facility care administrators must realize when it comes to keeping surfaces clean and healthy is that the quick, fast, and easy way of doing it with a disinfectant wipe will not do the job.  Surfaces must be cleaned properly or they will become a source of disease and contamination. Instead use a two-step cleaning process or a flat surface cleaning system like the one discussed here. Both will result in more hygienic cleaning.

Matt Morrison is the communications manager for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch Cleaning® System. 

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