When it comes to cleaning and disinfection, if we learned from our parents we were probably led astray (sorry mom, if it helps you were taught wrong too!). As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the number of calls to poison control increased by 150% in Ontario between March 2019 and March 2020. It highlights the importance of going back to the basics - aka definitions - because once we are all talking the same language, we gain the confidence and comfort that we are doing what we need to for our family.
First, cleaning simply removes visible debris, dirt, and dust. It’s the first step in ensuring disinfection can occur as most disinfectants cannot kill in the presence of dirt (bleach included). For cleaning to be effective detergents are needed to help lift and remove soils from the surface. Think of it this way, if you were only to use mouth wash as your morning oral hygiene routine, you’d have fresh breath, but it does not remove the plaque and stuff we’ve collected during the day or overnight. That’s why we use a toothbrush.
Sanitizing is another term we frequently hear. Sanitizing renders the surface safe or makes the surface sanitary. Sanitizing is meant to reduce the numbers of bacteria, viruses, and fungi on surfaces and does kill some bacteria found on the surfaces. It is generally, what we need for day to day to keep our loved ones healthy at home and is what is required by public health for surfaces in restaurants, daycares, and schools.
Unlike cleaning and sanitizing, disinfecting “kills” germs like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Testing is completed and approved by Health Canada in order to make claims against specific pathogens and the product labels will clearly identify what germs they kill and how long it takes to kill them. While TV commercials may make it seem like disinfectants kill on contact, the truth is they do not. You need to read the label to determine how long the surface must stay wet to disinfect! The wet dwell time or contact time needed ranges from 1 minute up to 10 minutes. If your product says 10 minutes, then you need to keep that surface wet for 10 minutes.
When it comes to disinfecting at home, focus on the areas that are most frequently touched. Remember that hands spread germs to surprising places. Focus on high touch surfaces as these surfaces are often highly contaminated with pathogens, and we may not wash our hands after touching (TV remotes, light switches, cell phones etc). To give you an idea where some of the most contaminated surfaces are, in our kitchen and bathrooms, in order from most germy to least germy surfaces are bathroom sink, kitchen counter, bathroom faucet, common area doorknobs and kitchen drawer knob.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought! If you already know this, have a conversation with your friends and family. We need to spread the word and help make sure we can all do our part in stopping the pandemic and not hurting ourselves by improper use of disinfectants in the process!