Cleaning in community health services: the most common mistake

Proper cleaning in community health service settings, as well as appropriate disinfection, is vital. It helps to keep residents well and reduce the spread of infection. But while Covid has everyone reaching for cleaning products more often, it’s important to use the right ones.

Before we give you the simplest tip. we have to improve your cleaning and disinfection, we need to give a quick refresher on cleaning and disinfection.

Why is it important to clean and disinfect?

Viruses, like coronavirus and influenza viruses, can land on any surface, and it is possible for people to become infected if they touch those surfaces then touch their nose, mouth or eyes.

The most reliable and effective way to prevent infections is to frequently perform hand hygiene with ABHR or soap and water. But forgetting hand hygiene is less problematic if environmental surfaces are free of pathogens that can spread infection. This makes environmental cleaning and disinfecting the next big-ticket item for preventing the spread of disease.

Now that we know that cleaning is vital to stop infections, the next question is when to clean and when to disinfect!

Why do we clean?

We can reduce the germs on a surface by cleaning it with products that contain soap or detergent. This removes the contaminants that host the germs, which decreases the risk of pathogen transmission. If there are no known or suspected infections in the service, then routine cleaning once a day with detergent and water is all that is required for most surfaces.

When drawing up a cleaning schedule, you should determine what needs to be cleaned, the type of surface it is, and how often it needs to be cleaned. Frequently touched surfaces will need to be cleaned more often than once a day. This includes things like door handles/knobs, phones, light switches, computer keyboards, tablets, TV remote controls, hand railings, sinks and faucets etc.

Cleaning and disinfecting frequency in the community health or disability service will depend on whether there is an active infection risk. If there is a known infection in the facility (i.e. someone is known to be unwell), then cleaning frequency for all surfaces should be increased. If you have a query about cleaning frequencies in a community health or disability service setting, please contact Bug Control for advice.

Any staff undertaking cleaning in community health settings must be trained in the proper use of both cleaning and disinfecting products and the difference between them.

When should we disinfect?

Okay, so we have the cleaning sorted, what about disinfecting?

Disinfection is undertaken when there is a known or suspected infection. Disinfection is easy to do, but we often get it wrong. This is mostly because people are in a hurry and want to get the job done so they can move on to the next task.

The disinfection process is:

  1. Clean the surfaces with detergent and water to remove actual contaminants
  2. Allow them to dry
  3. Apply a disinfectant following the directions for use
  4. Allow the disinfectant to dry fully.

Note that cleaning is part of disinfection. Disinfection is ineffective if the surface is not cleaned first. Following these steps ensures that the disinfectant has the proper time and contact with the surface to kill the germs it is there to kill.

Stopping the most common cleaning mistake

Now that you know how to clean and how to disinfect properly, you might think you’re ready to go. But wait! There’s one more thing.

You might think that the products you have are right for the job. Unfortunately, that’s often more about clever product advertising rather than anything scientific. Lots of products state they will kill 99.9 % of germs, but what type of germs? And are those the germs that you’re trying to get rid of? Just because a product gets rid of one type of germ, it doesn’t mean it gets rid of all germs.

I’m going to give an example, because I have seen this product being used in many houses as part of their COVID cleaning protocol. I have seen antibacterial disinfectant wipes used to do touch point COVID disinfecting! What is wrong with this? Simple, COVID is a virus and these wipes are antibacterial, so they are totally ineffective against any virus. Another one is disinfectant surface sprays. Some claim they can kill COVID-19, but again they’re antibacterial. While they might kill 99.99% of germs, they can’t touch Covid (or influenza), as it is a virus. You would be better off cleaning these surfaces with a detergent or soap to physically remove the virus particles than using these sprays.

Hopefully this has dispelled the myth of disinfectants being able to clean and the importance of physically cleaning with detergent and water. Antimicrobial cleaning products are no better at eliminating bacteria and viruses than plain old detergents and warm water, which is applied using a good bit of elbow grease to physically remove the grime, rinsed, then left to air dry.

With this one tip, you'll improve cleaning in your community health service and reduce the risk of spreading infections.

If you’re looking for help with improving cleaning and infection control in your community health or disability service, contact Bug Control now. With over twenty-five years of experience in infection control, we know how to get you back on track.