Regular, effective cleaning is the key

2nd of February 2021 Article by John Griep
Regular, effective cleaning is the key

In the current pandemic, fear can lead to bad advice when it comes to hygiene, writes VSR’s John Griep.

Cleaning and disinfection are not the same. Disinfection is about killing or inactivating microorganisms, thus reducing the number of microorganisms to an acceptable level. Cleaning is about removing dirt and the microorganisms it contains.

Disinfection is what we do after cleaning, in the food industry, care homes and hospitals and in cleanrooms. Cleaning alone is what we do in all other environments, such as offices and schools.
But we now live in coronavirus times. Hygiene is everybody’s concern. The group of people considered vulnerable has grown; one in five people in the Netherlands is considered to be at risk. So people are focusing on disinfection.

In these times in particular, there are two pitfalls in disinfection: 1. Disinfection is being done for emotional reasons, and 2. Disinfection is being carried out incorrectly.

1. Emotion is not a good reason for disinfection. Disinfection should be done on rational grounds, in risk situations such as a confirmed infection, suspected infection, in cases concerning blood or other bodily fluids, and in food safety.

2. The rule remains: clean first, then disinfect. Cleaning with a disinfectant agent is not disinfection. Careless mistakes can occur when staff lack (sufficient) training. For example, missing corners or edges, or failing to respect the required contact time. Errors that are invisible to the naked eye and which create a false sense of security.

Furthermore, you can ask yourself why you should disinfect contact surfaces at all. It is true that almost all microorganisms and viruses are killed or deactivated after applying the correct means of disinfection. However, this only lasts until the next person touches the surface.

This means simply decent cleaning is still more effective and prevents a false sense of security.

Proper cleaning with a normal detergent (or microfibre cloth without detergent) removes pretty much all micro-organisms, including virus particles together with the dirt. Time does the rest.
After all, virus particles, such as Covid-19, are unable to multiply on a surface - unlike microorganisms, which are bacteria. They need a host (a person or animal). Furthermore, a surface that we keep dry at room temperature after cleaning is a hostile environment.

In short, in just about all protocols for general spaces, ‘intensive cleaning of surfaces’ is sufficient. This also applies in times of coronavirus.

In contrast to disinfection, cleaning in combination with personal discipline actually demonstrates a lower risk of infection. Through hand hygiene and social distancing.

Also, carefully washing your hands produces better results than smothering them with disinfection gels.

The answer to the coronavirus-safety question is therefore: decent cleaning and personal discipline (hand hygiene and social distancing). For some people, the fact there is no magic solution, such as disinfection, can be a worry, while for others it is rather reassuring: After all, the matter is largely in your own hands!


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