Monday, August 8, 2011

The Different Levels of Clean

As we discussed last week, the definition of “clean” carries a lot of ambiguity in the industrial and commercial cleaning communities. For example, a retail store may define its facility’s level of clean by physical appearance, while a healthcare facility is required to define “clean” by certain standards and regulations. For our purpose of providing you with a general overview of “clean” standards, we can differentiate among three levels: cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting.

  • Cleaning: removing dirt, grease, debris and many germs by scrubbing with detergent and water. In buildings, floors are cleaned to improve their appearance and make them safer by reducing the likelihood of slip-and-fall accidents.
  • Sanitizing: reducing the number of disease-causing germs to what is considered a “safe level.” One definition of hard-surface sanitizers states that these chemical agents must be capable of killing 99.9% of the infectious organisms present in a bacterial population within 30 seconds.
  • Disinfecting: destroying disease-causing bacteria or pathogens (but not spores or all viruses, which would require sterilizing, a process not applied to floors). A disinfectant is a chemical agent capable of reducing the level of pathogenic bacteria by 99.999% in a time frame of between 5 and 10 minutes. Recent outbreaks of the MRSA and H1N1 viruses have increased the frequency of disinfecting surfaces, usually with a quaternary disinfectant.

The majority of facilities are likely to describe their floor maintenance programs as “cleaning,” but even within this category there is a wide range of desired outcomes—from the retailer that demands a high-shine finish to greet shoppers every day to the school that needs its hallways free of dust, dirt and grime.

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