It’s natural for you to want to protect your loved ones from germs and harmful external agents such as bacteria and viruses, especially in the current uncertain circumstances you’ll want to be extra careful so that you can minimise the risk of infection in the family. However, it is not always possible to kill all the germs in the house or even necessary. Sometimes, only simple cleaning and wiping is good enough and your immune system do the rest.
When it comes to cleaning and removing germs to avoid getting infections, there are three terms most commonly used by us. These are cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation. In this article, we have discussed what each of these terms means and how we can disinfect our homes to reduce the chance of infection.
Table of Contents
In this article, you will find a range of useful information. We’ve broken it down into individual headings to make it extremely easy to cover. See below!
- Understanding the Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfection and Sterilisation
- Which is Best?
- Disinfecting When Outside the House
- Disinfecting for Personal Hygiene
- Living Time of Coronavirus
- How Often Should We Disinfect?
- What Are Some Good Disinfecting Products?
- Professional Disinfection Cleaning
- Other Ways of Disinfection and Reducing the Risk
Understanding the Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfection and Sterilisation
Simply put, cleaning involves the use of a cleaning process which can remove visible dirt and gunk from surfaces. These can be dust, body secretions, crumbs, food and spills. In daily household cleaning, this is enough to make the space free of foreign agents and make it look clean.
Regular household cleaning with just soapy water and cloth can remove the germs to a certain extent that can cause illnesses. This is because the visible dirt on surfaces breeds germs in the form of bacteria and viruses. So, when we remove the dirt by cleaning the surfaces, we remove the ground for the germs to breed on.
Most house surfaces are cleaned by this process of cleaning. When we apply force on a surface with the help of cleaning cloth or wipes, the surface gets free of harmful foreign agents. Other things we can do to make our house free of harmful germs is mopping, hoovering and scrubbing etc.
Disinfection is the process where the living germs are killed or removed from the surfaces. This can be done with the use of standard disinfectant solutions available commercially or made at home. The way disinfectants work is they attack the cell of the microorganisms or germs living on a surface or destroy the system through which they stay alive, called metabolism.
Disinfectants attack and destroy the DNA of the germs in this way they cannot stay active and are killed. Once the harmful germs or pathogens are killed, they cannot cause any harm.
Another method of removing harmful pathogens is by sterilising the surfaces. In this method, high heat, chemicals or pressure techniques are used to kill the germs. This process destroys all forms of living microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. This method is widely practised in health facilities and heat in the form of steam is mainly used to sterilise the health-related products or material.
Which is Best?
Now that we understand the difference how each of these three cleaning methods work, the question arises that which one is the best. The simple answer to this would be that it depends on the purpose for which we are using any of these methods. In some cases, for example, simple cleaning would be good enough while in some cases we would be needing a higher standard of cleaning such as sterilisation and disinfection.
Here is a simple guide which will help us to understand when to use which technique:
Household Hard Surfaces
For most household hard surfaces the standard procedure of cleaning would be to clean with a cloth using soap and water to remove visible dirt and dust. This would be enough under normal circumstances. However, due to the outbreak of the pandemic all of us are being extra careful which is a good thing. Now, if you are concerned that your regular cleaning is not effective to deal with the viruses, you can disinfect the surfaces.
The best way to do this is to use standard commercial disinfectant sprays or surface wipes. Another way is to take bleach and add water with a ratio of 1:5. Make a spray and use it on surfaces. This should be done especially for those areas that are more prone to catching outside agents such as; doorknobs, switches, handles, chairs, tables and toilets etc. These are the most touched surfaces in every house and must be taken extra care of.
We also need to be mindful of the electronic items at home or in the workplace. These are the things that get touched by a lot of people or even ourselves several times a day without realising, which can mean these surfaces are dirtier than a toilet because we touch and hold them with unclean hands sometimes. The high touch electronics include remote controls, game controls, mobile phones, keyboards and mouse.
The best way to clean electronics is to use surface wipes or other disinfectants especially made for electronics, bleach is not recommended for electronics.
Another method to protect and easily disinfect your electronics is to cover them with a plastic sheet, this way is easier to clean them with disinfectant chemicals.
Disinfecting is not so important for washing clothes. The simple process of washing involving washing detergent and warm water should be enough to wash the germs away. The regular washing is good enough for cleaning the clothes.
However, if you are still concerned or if you have an ill person at home, you can add any washing disinfectant to the wash cycle. Usually, Dettol is the best choice for this. Another way is to ‘soak’ the clothes for a little while before adding them to the washing machine. Some machines even have the option of soaking, so that can be used. This is especially good if there is visible dirt on the clothes.
Chlorine bleach can also be added to the wash but it is only recommended for whites, so do be careful if you do wish to use this process. If you are washing clothes at the laundry, its best to disinfect the inside washing tub of the machine with a disinfectant or wipes.
It’s best to use warm water as warm water will kill more germs than a cold one. However, the simple washing powder and soap are also effective for removing germs.
Disinfecting When Outside the House
It’s easier to disinfect and clean the house and your belongings when you are indoors. You can sort everything out in your own time and put them away safely, having a peace of mind that everything is now clean and germs free. However, it is more difficult to organise yourself when you are out and about.
You need to be more conscious and be more mindful of what you are touching and in what ways you can avoid becoming unwell. The most common items we come in contact with when outside are the steering wheel of the car, keypad at cash points, payment machine at tills, shopping trolleys and the shopping items etc. If you are using public transport then the support bars or hangers on the bus, doors or even pay card are things that are often touched by many during a day.
Many people are also conscious of using gyms because the exercise equipment is a well-known breeding ground for germs. A lot of people everyday use them and there could sweat, germs and whatnot on the surfaces of the machines.
Here are a few practical tips and advice on what to disinfect how to do it when you are outside, to make your life easier:
- It is not possible or feasible for you to disinfect everything you come in contact with. So, the best defence you have is to keep your hands clean. Wash them frequently (if water is not available, use a hand sanitiser).
- Avoid touching your face, mouth, nose and eyes when you have touched anything outside of the house.
- If you are going shopping, wipe the handle of the shopping trolley with an antibacterial surface wipe.
- You can’t wipe the card machine obviously, but you can use gloves. It’s best if you have a contactless card so you don’t have to type the pin in.
- It’s best not to deal with cash in these circumstances as you don’t know who touched that note or coin you are holding or what might be on it.
- While withdrawing cash from the cashpoint, use disposable gloves. Wipe the keypad if possible.
- When travelling by public transport, wearing gloves is the best choice you have. Take them off and dispose of properly when you are off the bus. Use a hand sanitiser afterwards, because your fingers might have touched the infected parts of the gloves.
- When travelling by your own car, wipe the door handle, gear stick and the steering wheel before you drive off. These are the surfaces you use the most while driving and might have touched them with unclean hands so its best to disinfect with surface wipes.
- When at the gym, it is not possible for you to disinfect every exercise machine nor it is recommended. So, the best way is to use gloves if possible, do not touch your face while exercising and have a shower as soon as possible. The best is to have it at the gym or as soon as you get home.
- When you are buying your grocery, only pick up items you absolutely need. There is no need to pick the items up if you’re just browsing.
- It is time-consuming to wipe everything down with disinfectant or wipes, although if possible, that can be done when you get home. These can be items such as juice bottles or cartons, packed items such as a packet of crisps, nappies or toiletries etc.
- If that is too much, you can leave them untouched for a few hours (up to 72) before putting them away in the designated places.
- For saving time, take the food items out of their packaging (such as fruits and vegetables), wash them and put them away. Throw away the packaging properly.
- Perishable food items that go in the fridge or freezer can be put away straightaway. You can either take them out of their packaging or wipe the surface.
Disinfecting For Personal Hygiene
As much as it is important to keep the house and belongings germs free, it is equally important to keep ourselves clean too. There are several things we can do to avoid the risk of being infected and reduce the chances of becoming unwell.
Some great tips to promote personal hygiene are below.
- Wash hands frequently. The recommended time of washing hands to get rid of the viruses is 20 seconds. Use soap and water to wash away or kill the germs on your hands.
- Do not touch your hands to your face, eyes, nose or mouth. The virus can get into our body through them.
- Get kids into the habit of washing hands frequently too. Teach them it is important to wash hands after coming in from outside, before eating and after using the toilet.
- Keep a hand sanitiser or antibacterial hand wipes with when outside. Give them to the kids too and teach them to use them at all times when they are out of the house.
- It is a good habit to have a shower after coming back from home. It is especially important if you have vulnerable or weak people at home. You can avoid becoming ill yourself and reduce the risk of spreading germs and virus to the others.
- Take your clothes for washing straight away and do not leave them lying around.
Living Time of Coronavirus
Different types of germs can live up to different lengths of time on surfaces. The type of germ and the type of surface determines how long it can live in a certain area. With regards to coronavirus, the virus can live up to a long time of certain surfaces which makes it more contagious and increases the risk of spreading. It is therefore important to know how long it can live and how to properly treat it by the use of disinfectants.
The virus, known as Coronavirus or COVID-19, can live from 3 hours to as long as 72 or more hours on different surfaces. The smallest time the virus can live is in the air which is 3 hours, while 4 hours on copper surfaces. Then comes surfaces such as cardboard and paper where it can survive up to 24 hours. On steel, the coronavirus can live up to 48 hours. While the longest surviving time is on plastic where it can live up to 72 hours or it can even go up to 9 days.
How Often Should We Disinfect?
Although regular cleaning should be done as often as is desirable for your house according to your need, it is even more important to do so now. The spread of harmful bacteria and viruses, such as the coronavirus, can be avoided to a great extent if we practice good hygiene for ourselves and our surroundings.
Regular cleaning is good enough to keep your house clean and free of germs in ordinary circumstances, but as it is said, ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’, we must take extra precautions in these times to keep ourselves healthy and fit. Therefore, if we add disinfecting to our regular clean, we can make our surroundings cleaner and more hygienic.
When we clean the house, we can add some disinfectant solution to the cleaning cloth to get rid of the germs and pathogens carrying illnesses. Or, we can use disinfectant sprays on the surfaces and wipe them off with a cloth. It must be noted, however, that cleaning and disinfecting go side by side. It is important to remove all visible dirt and gunk by cleaning the area first. Afterwards, we can use any of the recommended disinfecting techniques.
When using disinfectants we must bear in mind to read the instructions before usage. Some disinfectants are recommended to be applied to a surface for 4 to 10 minutes for their effective use, while some disinfectants such as bleach can be harsh and must be avoided in certain situations or not to be left for a long time on a surface. Therefore, reading the information on the label is important.
The recommended time for disinfecting different surfaces varies according to the frequency of their use. For example, high touch surfaces such as door handles, tables, back of chairs, mobile phones and toilets must be disinfected more often than other areas of the house. The best would be to wipe and disinfect them every time someone from outside comes in. If a person in the house with coronavirus symptoms has touched those surfaces it’s important to clean and sanitise them as quickly as possible.
The less touched items should be disinfected at least once a day to get rid of the germs on the surfaces. This practice will make the house healthier, cleaner and a safer environment for us to live and breathe in. These can be surfaces such as tables, sofas, chairs, worktops or countertops in the kitchen and bathroom.
The less an area of the house is accessed, the less need there is for disinfecting it. So, for example, if you have a formal sitting room that is very rarely used, you would not need to disinfect it daily. Once a week or once in two weeks should be enough to keep it clean. This will also save your time which you can utilise elsewhere, where it is more needed.
What Are Some Good Disinfecting Products?
Although some harmful bacteria and viruses can be treated with regular household cleanings, such as the use of soap and water, it is more reassuring to know what exactly these products do to kill the germs and how effective they are.
Some of the products that are useful when it comes to disinfecting the house for coronavirus or any other bacteria or virus are below.
Regular household bleach is a good disinfectant cleaner for killing the viruses and bacteria on various surfaces. However, with the use of bleach, care must be taken to avoid any spillage. It must be kept away from the reach of the children. Bleach must be used after reading the instructions on the label carefully.
The best way to use bleach is to dilute it with water and make a spray. The recommended ratio is one part of bleach with five parts of water.
Bleach is an effective disinfectant in the sense that you can be reassured that your surfaces are now free of any viruses or germs after cleaning them with bleach. Bleach reacts with the RNA and protein of the virus so it can not produce any more viruses. It also kills the viruses that were present on the surface initially. Bleach should not be left on the surface for too long as it may cause discolouration.
Hydrogen peroxide is also another easily available disinfectant. However, it should not be used on its own directly on the surfaces. Mix water and hydrogen peroxide in equal proportion and make a spray. This spray can be applied to surfaces, before being wiped with a sponge. This method of disinfection is best for countertops in the kitchen and bathroom and hard surfaces.
Antibacterial wipes or surface wipes that are easily available in any supermarket are also effective for disinfecting surfaces from viruses. When wipes are applied with pressure, they remove the virus and germs on the surface as they get attached to the wipe, making the surface clean and germs free.
The main component of the antibacterial wipes is antiseptic, it is the same ingredient that is used in health and medical facilities for treating germs. The advantage of using wipes over bleach is that they are safer and they also smell nice, meaning the entire room will smell nice and fresh. The smell of bleach is pungent and quite strong which stays for a long time, and not everyone likes it.
When speaking of disinfection cleaning, the first thing that comes to mind is using disinfectant sprays. There is a huge variety of disinfectant sprays available commercially, a lot of which are not very expensive either. It is recommended that a disinfectant spray with 70% alcohol content is the best for treating germs and viruses.
What makes them even better is they are easy to use and save time. You can just spray an adequate amount on a surface and wipe them off with a clean and dry cloth.
Multi-purpose or all-purpose cleaners are also effective for treating the viruses and bacteria on surfaces. The usage is the same as the disinfectant sprays, and the instructions on the label must be read carefully for proper use.
Soapy Water and Cloth
The simplest way of disinfecting is the use of soapy water. Mix a little bit of washing up liquid or even hand wash into water then dip a clean cloth in the solution and use it to clean the surfaces with this soapy solution. If you are not too sure of this, add a small amount of disinfectant liquid or Dettol in the water too.
Soap is effective in killing the virus as it destroys the shell of the virus making its grip on the surface lose and kills the virus too. The reason why we are told to wash our hands frequently to keep ourselves safe from coronavirus is the same principle. The soap destroys the virus whether on our clothes, on our body or the surfaces.
Professional Disinfection Cleaning
Although a lot of workplaces are shut down due to the lockdown within the world, the professional cleaning services are still open as it involves public health and wellbeing. There are many advantages if you decide to hire professional services to treat your house for germs, virus and bacteria.
The biggest advantage is that these services are professional and have experience in dealing with cleaning and disinfecting tasks regularly. This is the reason that they know exactly how to go about it, what type of disinfection service you would need in your house and which areas to tackle.
The professional cleaning and disinfecting services are provided to schools, hospitals, gyms, restaurant, warehouses, offices and other workplaces from time to time. Therefore, if you are unsure about if you are doing the right thing to disinfect the house, and would like the professional services to come and do it for you once, you can hire their services. Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of you and your family, so if it gives you a peace of mind it is worth having it done at least once.
There are a variety of options available to you for disinfection cleaning service. Such as sanitising, deep cleaning, high-touch area focus cleaning and cleaning carpets etc. The disinfection service works on areas which grow and breed viruses and bacteria and they are given treatment. The use of chemicals and high-quality disinfectant make this service worthwhile.
If you are considering a deep cleaning service, this would include treating the growth areas of mould and mildew which is the breeding ground of illnesses and germs. Thus, having a deep cleaning service done makes your home healthier and cleaner and all the agents that would cause cross-contamination have been treated with the deep cleaning service.
Another area in your home which can accumulate a lot of germs is the carpet. If you have been thinking of giving your carpet a good deep clean, now is the best time to do it. Carpet breeds a lot of germs in the deep layers which cannot be accessed with regular hoovering. Professional deep cleaning with disinfection treatment will make your carpet free of all germs from the deepest of layers, helping to make your carpet look and feel as good as new.
The professional cleaning services are fast and efficient and they can clean, disinfect and fumigate the house in very minimal amounts of time. This will save you a lot of time and hassle, whilst giving you the peace of mind that your house is being treated by a professional who knows where and how to treat your property for bacteria and viruses.
If you want to make sure that all viruses in the tiniest corners of the house are being treated, then you can hire the decontamination service which is also a deep cleaning disinfection service but it is more of an emergency nature so you can get a quick booking.
Now that everyone is practising social distancing, you might have concerns letting the professional cleaners in. but, the best thing about professional services is that they are fully trained and will take all necessary precautions to make their stay in your house safe, not just for themselves but for you too. They have the right equipment and they perform under the legal guidelines when doing a disinfection cleaning at any place.
After a professional disinfection cleaning service, you can relax and be assured in the knowledge that your house is free of germs and viruses. However, it does not mean that direct human to human contamination can be avoided with professional disinfection service. This is something we need to take care of on our own.
Other Ways of Disinfection and Reducing the Risk
Although it is very crucial to disinfect the house and practice good personal hygiene to reduce the risk of infection through viruses and bacteria, there are a few other tips and tricks which are directly or indirectly related to disinfecting and if practices with care, will reduce the chances of becoming unwell.
Ventilating the House: It is important to air and ventilate the house regularly. The fresh air from outside will take away the stale indoor air that might be carrying germs. This is even more important if you have a person who has shown symptoms of infection. As we have read before, the coronavirus can stay in the air for up to 3 hours, so it is important to let fresh air in at least once a day for a few hours so that the germs in the air can be taken out.
Washing Hands: This has been stressed again and again and rightly so. We know that the best defence against disinfecting ourselves is to wash our hands frequently with soap and water. This is because if our hands are clean, even if we touch surfaces, we will not be infecting them. Thus, clean hands will keep the surfaces clean too.
Cleaning Toilets: Toilets, just like other high touch surfaces are more likely to have germs on them. Therefore, it is important to regularly clean the toilet with any good commercial toilet cleaner. Bleach can also be used to clean the toilet. When disinfecting, the seat must be cleaned properly too as this is the place which comes in direct contact by another person. Especially if you have an ill person in the house and the toilet and bathroom are shared by everyone.
Bringing Shopping Inside: When you bring shopping or other items from outside, leave them by the door if possible and do not touch them. The longest you can logically go without touching them would be 72 hours, as we have read this is the maximum living time for most harmful bacteria (including Coronavirus). However, most of the time this is not feasible or plausible. In that case, the items must be washed or taken out of the packaging as appropriate. The shopping bags (which are also plastic) must be put away properly.
Shoes and Keys: When you come in from outside, take your shoes off at the door. Do not bring them in and do not walk on the carpet with shoes on. The best is to pick them up and put them away at their designated place as soon as you get in. The car keys must also be put away where they live.
Wash and Air Clothes: It best to change your clothes as soon as you come in and take a shower. The clothes shouldn’t be worn again and must be washed. However, if this is not possible, some recommend that airing the clothes out in the sun is also effective for killing any viruses on them.
Using Hand Sanitiser and Gloves: Using hand sanitiser when you do not have access to soap and water is the best alternative. It is recommended that a hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol content is the best for killing the viruses on hands. If possible, wear disposable gloves when handling things outside the home such as a shopping cart. Use the hand sanitiser as soon as you get back in your car and dispose of the gloves. Washing hands with soap and water is the best and must be done as soon as you get home.
These little tips will help you to disinfect your house and the things you come in contact with, including yourself. This is a general guide and all necessary precautions recommended by the health experts must also be taken into consideration to reduce the risk of becoming ill due to exposure to any harmful bacteria or viruses.