To clean, or to disinfect?

20th of September 2021
To clean, or to disinfect?

John Griep reports from the Netherlands on VSR’s new list of definitions and recommendations.

VSR investigates new and existing cleaning methods and agents. Cleaning and disinfection are two of those existing methods. You may be thinking: there’s no need to explain this among cleaning professionals, is there? After all, these are core tasks for them!

You may be right. But due to extreme reactions to coronavirus and the client’s wish to provide a safe workplace, you may want to accommodate your client. Then I hear you thinking, why don’t we disinfect the door handles? Together with the Dutch Association of Soap Producers (NVZ), VSR has drawn up an overview. When is disinfecting beneficial? How do I choose the right products? Which manufacturers’ claims can I rely on?

The overview consists of 10 definitions, claims and recommendations about cleaning, disinfection and databases. In most cases, just a good clean is sufficient for good hygiene. Cleaning with a normal detergent (or microfibre cloth without detergent) removes pretty much all micro-organisms, including virus particles. Time does the rest. This is more effective than disinfecting and prevents a false sense of security.

Hygiene. The entire practice of maintaining and promoting good health through cleaning and disinfection.

Cleaning. Cleaning is the physical removal of visible dirt, reducing the ability of unwanted micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, allergens and germs) to feed and attach themselves. This removes 85 to 90 per cent of micro-organisms.

Disinfecting. Disinfecting reduces the number of micro-organisms to an acceptable level, whereby the risk of contamination is very low. Disinfecting is always done after cleaning and only in specific cases, such as in the food industry, in care and hospital institutions and in cases of infection.

Biocides. Biocides are substances and mixtures containing active substances that chemically control undesirable organisms, such as insects, bacteria and fungi. This includes disinfectants and pesticides.

Sterilising. A sterile surface is a surface that is completely free of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

Biocide claims/mixed with biocides. Biocide claims state or suggest the product removes, reduces or controls microbial loads, such as - depending on the biocide - bacteria or viruses. These are not regular cleaning products but fall within the category of biocides. That’s why they must carry an approval number (see the final point).

The claim ‘natural’ products. Many producers claim their products are of natural origin (or similar). Always ask the supplier for supporting evidence, as they are duty-bound to submit this.
Safety claims. The safety of cleaning products is strictly regulated by European legislation, in particular by REACH. Authorised disinfectants on the European market must always be safe.

Selecting a disinfectant. When choosing a disinfectant, always check the presence of an approval number on the label; the area of application; and the target organisms.

Checking the approval number. Disinfectants are distinguished from cleaning agents by their approval number. Check with the European Chemicals Agency and, if applicable, with national laws and regulations.


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited