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Trying To Remove Soil & Kill Germs Simultaneously Can Backfire

Disinfectant-Detergents Are NOT Good Cleaners or Magic Germ Killers

Before we begin this essay, we need to define a few words:

  1. Detergent: A concentrated cleaning agent to be diluted in water or a ready-to-use premixed cleaning solution. The chemicals in a detergent perform 2 tasks:
    1. Penetrate and break up soil into microscopic pieces, and
    2. Open water molecules so that the maximum amount of micro-size units of soil can be absorbed.
      Water transports cleaning chemicals to a soiled surface and when the washing is complete, the water becomes the return transport vehicle for moving the chemicals and soil from the surface being cleaned to the drain and out to the earth for recycling. If the cleaning process is performed effectively, the washed surface should only be left with a film of clean evaporating water.
  2. Microorganism: An organism (Bacteria – Protozoa – Fungi – Virus) that is so small (microscopic) that it is invisible to the naked eye. Microorganisms are found everywhere in nature; they are nature’s recyclers. Microorganisms can be friendly as when used in making beer or dangerous as when they cause deadly infections.
  3. Germs: Microorganisms that make living things sick. Not all living things are made sick by the same microorganism. i. e. A germ to person 1 may have no effect on person 2 and therefore is just another microorganism to person 2.
  4. Mutation: When a microorganism goes through a sudden physical alteration (chromosome change—DNA) in an effort to survive in a life-threatening environment. Sometimes the term is misused when suggesting that germs change and live on. From a custodial perspective, whether germs could/would/do mutate or not, they still could not live outside of soil (their food). And, a single germicide product virtually does not have the ability to kill every kind of germ in one pass. Even if total kill product were available, the manufacturer of the product could not guarantee that 100% kill can be achieved without regards to the amount of soil in place.
  5. Germicide: A compound that kills microorganisms; normally infection-causing germs. Sanitizers and Disinfectant-Detergents are two of many germicides. Germicides may be formulated to target specific or select groups of microorganisms. Germicides are not primarily for removing soil.
  6. Sanitizer: A germicide that destroys microorganisms (germs) on a washed and rinsed surface (dishes, glasses, utensils) for the period of time until the sanitizer and water evaporate. Once evaporated, “germ-killing” ceases. Sanitizers are not designed to remove soil.
  7. Disinfect-Detergent: A concentrated or ready-to-use solution formulated to leave a tenacious germicide film (residual) on a surface after drying. The residual has an active time of 6± hours or until it gets contaminated by soil. Once contaminated, the disinfectant-detergent residual looses its germ-killing effect. This type of product should not come in contact with food, be used around open (unprotected) food products, or be applied to food preparation surfaces.
  8. Spent Solution: “Dirty Water” – Cleaning solution after capturing soil.

A facility elevates its occupants’ exposure to stronger microorganisms or spores when a custodian leaves a surface less than 100% clean after performing a washing task using a disinfectant/sanitizing solution. Living microorganisms in the “left behind” soil are usually stronger because targeted germs get killed off and resistant germs (or germs not reached by the solution) live on to procreate. Since the germ count becomes more and more made up of resistant germs, the population becomes more resistant to the germicide solution. Repeat the process time-after-time, and eventually resistant germs are the dominant soil residents. That is why product directions always instruct that the germicide solution be used on a clean surface.

Surfaces that are not required to be 100% clean before each use should not be treated with a germicide; the surface should be washed 100% clean as needed. e. g. Toilets, sinks, urinals, drinking fountains, telephone handsets, etc. need to be washed as often as one feels necessary; but never treated with a germicide.

Surfaces that are required to be 100% clean before each use may be treated with a germicide to help ensure that dangerous microorganisms are killed.

This essay references two germicides:

  1. Sanitizer use is the 2nd rinse step performed to kill a minuscule number of germs that may have escaped a careful washing and rinsing. When the sanitizer evaporates, it is no longer available to kill germs nor will it affect whatever may make contact with the sanitized surface. i. e. Food processing equipment and surfaces, eating and drinking utensils, etc.
  2. A disinfectant-detergent solution is used to leave a germicide residual on a 100% clean surface. If a germicide is applied into soil, the germicide will be contaminated and rendered ineffective. Once a surface that has been properly treated with a germicide is touched by a human, animal, plant, or something “dirty”, washing, rinsing, and treating must be performed again in order to reinstate the protection. If an unspoiled treatment sets on a surface longer than its residual time (6± hours), its germ-killing muscle ceases. e. g. Hospital operating and emergency room surfaces, patient room surfaces prior to the arrival of a new patient, etc.

Advance Your Understanding of Disinfectant-Detergents
The term “disinfectant-detergent” can be a bit misleading when comparing cleaning results with that of a high-performance cold water detergent. On the front of a disinfectant-detergent container label, a manufacturer may insinuate that a product cleans as well as it kills microorganisms (germs). However, on the back of the label, a manufacturer is forced to state: “It is a violation of Federal Law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” To paraphrase the labeling: ‘Thoroughly wash and rinse a soiled surface prior to treating it with the disinfectant-detergent solution’. Manufacturers are allowed to say that a disinfectant-detergent solution may be used to clean and disinfectant a non-porous, smooth, unscratched, impenetrable surface. However, if a surface is porous, scratched, pitted, textured or penetrable, or if a non-porous surface has a visible soil buildup, the surface must be washed 100% clean prior to the application of the germicide solution.

Nonetheless, it is against the law to misuse a germicide solution. It is dangerous to assume that a germicide can make a soiled surface sanitary. Applying a germicide solution to a soiled surface renders the treatment ineffective and resistant/surviving microorganisms begin to out-populate left-behind and new soil. If the sticky contaminated residual is not washed away quickly, new soil will stick to it and increase the peril of germ transfer. Microorganisms that transfer to someone by touch or airborne ingestion create a potential for serious infection.

Disinfectant-detergents are first and foremost formulated to leave a residual on a surface and may not be able to penetrate and deal with soil buildup. Don’t accept hearsay or passed-along commentary. Custodians and food service personnel entrusted with using germicides need to read and understand government-mandated regulations and procedures for germicide use as well as does everyone up the management ladder to and including administrators. Germs don’t forgive ignorance.

Advantages of Using Cold Water Detergents
Grease and oil (binders) float in cold water. Hot water melts binders causing them to release their hold on soil particles. The heat also causes the melted binders to spread over the entire area being washed creating a soil-collecting film similar to a treated dust mop. Some of the soil particles floating in the water reattach to the binder film. When the surface dries, the soil-holding binder film may appear as being streaked or dull. If a hot wash water solution is vacuumed up, visible soil may be gone but an invisible binder film will remain. As air and traffic pass over the sticky binder film, new soil will be trapped and eventually appear as a mass of soil (spot) housing massive numbers of potentially dangerous microorganisms.

Cold water detergents do not require heat in order to penetrate binders and loosen soil. Rather than being melted and spread, soil masses are broken up into solid micro-sized pieces of soil-attached-to-binders and absorbed into opened water molecules. Cold water causes the binders to float, with soil particle attached, to the top of the water film for easy removal. All that is left on the surface is evaporating soil-free water. Cold water fiber cleaning (carpets & upholstery) achieve the same 100% clean results if a surface is sprayed with effective chemicals 15-to-20 minutes before the shampoo and/or extraction process takes place using a cold water conditioning solution.

Note: High-performance cold-water detergents do not require a separate rinse step as long as a sufficient amount of cleaning solution is used and all of the spent solution is picked up with a wet vacuum or a clean mop or cloth. Most important: Always work with relatively clean water; water molecules that are full of soil will cause soil to be left behind.

It is imperative to realize that “left behind” soil is more dangerous than generally recognized because “left behind” soil may contain toxins that cause only resistant microorganisms to survive and thus foster a more resistant germ. It is best to wash using cold water detergents; high pH general and low pH bathroom detergents.

If a surface receives contact from more than one subject before its next washing, it should not be treated with a germicide… It should be washed 100% clean as needed using a cold water detergent solution (soil floats better in cold water) and clean tools.

A clean surface helps most with preventing infections... The Gabriel Art of Cleaning Starter Kit has Fast-1-2-3 EFP all-purpose and Walls ‘N All-EFP bathroom cold water detergents (no disinfectant detergent), Crème Cleanser, brushes, other items, and Audio-Video Training Library that will help you achieve washing excellence for less than half of your present costs—If It’s Clean, It’s Sanitary®

Thank you.

Gabe Zanche, Sr. – Co-Founder of Gabriel First Corp. Copyright © 2006 Gabriel First Corp.

Please feel free to contact the Gabriel team if you have any comments or questions on this material