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What are the best and most effective technologies available for disinfecting?

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on with no end in sight, many cleaning professionals are rethinking their disinfecting practices. What are the best and most effective methods to properly disinfect and protect facilities and most importantly our communities? In this article, we will look at some of the newer technologies being used as well as the different types of chemical and non-chemical disinfectants. While we discuss the variety of methods, by no means am I endorsing or recommending any particular system. My hope is that this article will provide information for you to become informed and make those decisions for yourself.

What are some of the newest technologies being used? For a few years now we have seen the rise of electrostatic sprayers, fogging machines, and even Ultraviolet radiation to provide a more effective disinfection of surfaces. In addition, we have seen the rise in a variety of disinfectant chemicals such as air disinfectants, alcohols, and oxidizing agents. Which is the best for you?

Before we jump into understanding the different types of chemical disinfectants and applicating tools, I think it is vital that we address the proper use of disinfectants. For a disinfectant to be effective, it is important that soils be removed as much as possible. According to the Journal of Applied Microbiology, “Disinfectants can be seriously affected by the presence of organic matter...It is believed that the disinfectants are either adsorbed by the soil and are therefore inactivated or react with the soil and become inactivated.” This would mean that effective cleaning of the surface should be done and then an application of disinfecting solution.

Disinfectant Chemicals

What are air disinfectants? They are chemicals that a capable of disinfecting microorganisms suspended in the air. Most disinfectant sprays are not designed for use in the air. An air disinfectant has a unique droplet structure that when combined with a propellant allows them to disperse throughout the room for maximum coverage. An example of this would be Lysol disinfectant spray. The EPA has approved its use as disinfectant for use against SARS-CoV-2. The spay contains the active ingredients quaternary ammonium and ethyl alcohol which break down and destroy SARS-CoV-2. The challenge is that it is very difficult to effectively kill a pathogen in the air since the air is constantly moving. In enclosed spaces an air disinfectant can be much more effective. We will discuss how fogger machines can effectively be used in this regard later. We all know about using alcohol as a hand sanitizer. Purell has become a staple for most of the world because of its effectiveness in killing germs and microorganisms on hands when used as directed. According to the Mayo clinic they kill roughly 99.99 percent of germs known to cause illness. Keep in mind that for any hand sanitizer to be effective, it must contain at least 60 percent alcohol. What kind of alcohol? Specifically, we are talking about isopropyl alcohol which has also been found to be effective to a limited degree as a surface disinfectant in a medical setting. However, its flammability and quick evaporation do not make it suitable as a stand-alone disinfectant in the cleaning industry.

Oxidizers are some of the best types of surface disinfectants due to their ability to destroy the cell membrane of microorganisms which results in a loss of structure and leads to cell death. Chlorine, sodium hypochlorite (bleach), hydrogen peroxide, and quaternary ammonium salts are all types of oxidizers. These types of disinfectant solutions have been used effectively for years to kill a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The EPA has listed these chemicals along with others on their N-list of approved disinfectants for use against the Coronavirus (COVID-19). You will find these chemicals ingredients in most over the counter surface disinfectants. It is important to note that each EPA registered disinfectant goes through strict testing against a wide variety of bacteria, virus, and fungi as to efficacy. Manufacturers are required by the EPA to state their specific kill claims as well as contact time to achieve those claims. As a professional cleaner, it is your responsibility to make sure you are using the appropriate disinfectant for the specific pathogen you are seeking to kill and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Another recently used type of disinfectant is the ultraviolet radiation. Although this is not a chemical, it is now being used in medical facilities to disinfect surfaces.

Ultraviolet radiation – What is it?

UVC radiation is a known disinfectant for air, water, and nonporous surfaces. It has been effectively used for decades to reduce the spread of bacteria, such as tuberculosis. The process uses short- wavelength ultraviolet called ultraviolet C of UV-C, to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions. According to the FDA, UVC can only inactivate a virus if the virus is directly exposed to the radiation. Therefore, the inactivation of viruses on surfaces may not be effective due to blocking of the UV radiation by soil, such as dust, or other contaminants such as bodily fluids. In addition, exposure to UV radiation may cause painful eye injury and burn-like skin reactions. This technology is also very expensive. For these reasons it is currently best used in medical facilities such as surgical centers where the surface is cleaned first and then exposed to UVC while the area is closed off. What is great about this process is the fact that it is done without the use of chemicals.

Disinfecting Tools & Equipment

The effectiveness of any disinfection system is only as good as the method of application. Over the years these methods have changed dramatically. For example, think of the wide use of disinfecting wipes in the past few years. Due to the ease of application, disinfecting wipes have become the go-to method for most over-the-counter disinfectants. Yet these wonderful wipes have a limited use. While great for both cleaning and disinfecting, the purpose is specifically to apply disinfectant solution, not as cleaning tool. It is also important to remember, that when using a disinfectant, know the contact or dwell time. This is especially true with wipes since they can get old and dry out and therefore not provide enough product to stay wet for the proper amount of time to effectively kill.

Other delivery systems include atomizing solutions, foggers, and electro-static sprayers. Each of these are types of sprayers that can effectively dispense chemicals in an area. It should be noted that foggers are not nearly as effective since they do not apply enough product to keep the surface wet for the appropriate dwell time. In addition, both the CDC and EPA recommend against the use of foggers.

On the other hand, electro-static sprayers and atomizing sprayers are far more effective. Atomizing sprayers or ultra-low volume sprayers allow for higher production and high-capacity unity, killing 99.99% of any pathogen, including SARS-CoV2. These units also allow the user to apply their choice of EPA registered disinfectant. Electro-static sprayers deliver electrically charged disinfecting droplets that are actively attracted to surfaces, including the back, sides, and crevices of objects. They can reach areas that traditional spray and wipe systems miss. Both systems are very effective in dispensing disinfectants in areas that might typically be missed with a traditional trigger sprayer or aerosol.

Proper Use of New Technologies

Technology in the cleaning world like so many other industries is moving at a very fast pace. We are working with safer products, new tools while facing more difficult challenges. These challenges help us to look for better solutions. It requires that we open ourselves up to change and embrace new methods. As we continue to develop our understanding of how to effectively fight the pathogen war, we must never forget that we are doing so to protect our communities and our families. This means we must educate ourselves and our staff in the proper application of disinfectants. Take time to read the labels and learn about the chemicals you are using. Share this information with your coworkers and help them to learn how to properly use disinfectants. If we all continue to work together as a community, we will be able to face not only the current pandemic, but hopefully be better prepared for the next one.

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