Cleaning and disinfecting in COVID times

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So, what is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

To distinguish, cleaning removes visible grime, while disinfection removes most pathological microbes.  According to CDC (2020), cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.  Disinfection refers to using chemicals, to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

General recommendations for cleaning and disinfection

The best approach is to first clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap and water, and then follow by disinfecting the surface with a product containing 60-70% ethanol.  This order is considered best practice for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings (CDC, 2020).  Beyond COVID-19, remember this method for cold and flu season, and general bug prevention all year round.

In addition, increase regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, and electronics with household cleaners.  How often?  Twice a day is the recommended amount.  Consider using wipeable covers for electronics. If no manufacturer guidance is available, alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 60-70% alcohol such as our Germ Terminator to disinfect touch screens.  Remember to dry surfaces properly in order to avoid pooling of liquids (remembering that moisture is where microbes live and thrive).

In recent years, more people have become concerned about the adverse health effects of cleaning products leading to the development of more ‘green’, environmentally friendly products.  In the growing evidence, exposure to some common cleaning and disinfectant products causes or worsens respiratory illnesses, including asthma and chronic bronchitis (Goodyear et al., 2018, p. 411).  The problem with many cleaning and disinfectant products is that they contain respiratory irritants.  In an environment (such as the current COVID-19 environment) where you are seeking to avoid respiratory infection and stress, inhaling irritants that increase inflammation that open us up more readily to infection should be avoided.

How do natural disinfectant cleaners compare to bleach?

The answer?  Pretty similar!  There are three common classes of pathological microbes: bacteria, viruses and fungi (Falk, 2019, p. 1119).  In a study comparing two cleaning products: a bleach-containing cleaner, and an environmentally friendly botanical disinfectant cleaner, it was found that both products removed microbes from tested surfaces (the kitchen sink, counter, floor, and faucet) and in the bathroom (tub or shower, toilet seat, floor, and faucet) and showed similar cleaning and disinfecting performance with potentially different consequences for respiratory health (Goodyear et al., 2018, p. 410).  In light of these findings, it makes so much more sense to go for an environmentally friendly (natural) disinfectant cleaner, right? 

In summary

Clean surfaces first with soap and water, then disinfect using a 60-70% alcohol (such as Germ Terminator). 

For prevention, clean high touch-point surfaces twice a day.

Use environmentally friendly and natural products, because they perform as well as the toxic chemical products (like chlorine bleach), without the nasty fumes and toxins.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020. Cleaning and Disinfection of Households.  Retrieved from

Falk, Nancy A. 2019. “Surfactants As Antimicrobials: A Brief Overview of Microbial Interfacial Chemistry and Surfactant Antimicrobial Activity.” Journal of Surfactants and Detergents 22(5):1119–27.

Goodyear, N., Markkanen, P., Beato-Melendez, C., Mohamed, H., Gore, R., Galligan, C., … Quinn, M. (2018). Cleaning and disinfection in home care: a comparison of 2 commercial products with potentially different consequences for respiratory health. American Journal of Infection Control, 46(4), 410–416.




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