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Disinfecting, Sanitizing, Sterilizing...What's the difference?

Many people have asked us why we use the terms we do. Let us take a moment to explain the difference between disinfecting, sterilizing, and sanitizing and how our Shield Disinfectant is revolutionary in its protection against Covid-19 and other microorganisms.


Think of cleaning like a pyramid. The highest level of the pyramid is actually the least practical, but the most effective. as you move down the pyramid your effectiveness decreases, but the amount of time to complete the task usually decreases as well. At the foundation of the pyramid is polishing, wiping, and just general "cleaning". Everyone needs this type of cleaning in their facility, but nowadays people are adding sanitizing or disinfecting to this process, especially when you are talking about high touch areas or areas with high traffic or exposure.


Reseting at the top of the pyramid is Sterilization. Sterilization uses extreme heat to kill ALL living material on a surface. In a medical setting you would have a sterilization unit that would act like an oven to heat up your materials at a desired temp for a set time to ensure you have killed 100% of all living material on those surfaces.


Sterilization also can be performed by using our Vapor Cleaners. Our vapor cleaners heat water up inside their boilers to over 300 degrees, since water boils at 212 degrees, when the trigger is pulled what emits is a super heater vapor at about 265 degrees, not steam but dry vapor, that will kill all items it comes into contact with. In some cases we have used our commercial vapor cleaners to sterilizer areas inside commercial kitchens or homes. This is a longer process and is usually used in conjunction with our commercial kitchen deep cleaning services, but this equipment can be used to sterilize most non heat sensitive surfaces.


Sterilization is not practical though for many applications, as you have to either place the items inside a device that administers the heat, or apply the heat to the surface. You can though use UV light to also sterilize, this is an effective solution, though slow, the light will disrupt the DNA/RMA of the living material by damaging the nucleic acid (by formation of numerous thymine dimmers) thus preventing the organism preventing its ability to reproduce of infect.


Resting below on the pyramid is Disinfection. Disinfection is when you apply an chemical or cleaning agent that when applied correctly and at the proper dilution or mixture, it will kill living material. NOT ALL DISINFECTANTS KILL CORONAVIRUS, in fact there is a specific list of the ones that do. This list if published by the EPA, and companies can add their chemicals to this list if their EPA approval lists they are effective against "similar" viruses. There is not 1 disinfectant that kills everything, though there are some very strong ones that are very effective and are used in medical settings, but even those have shown to not be effective against some materials, thus we use sterilization practices.


Disinfection is very effective, and will kill living material on a surface, but it is not safe to have these chemicals come into contact with skin as by definition they are designed to kill living material. When properly applied to a surface and allowed to dry, the remaining residue decreases in effectiveness and no longer works to kill living material. Our Shield disinfectant though will continue to work for days even up to a week or more. The Shield disinfectant that we use along with our electrostatic sprayers is by far the best solution when fighting the coronavirus, influenza, bacteria and fungi for a longer term.


Typically you have to apply a disinfectant multiple times a day to ensure you are protecting the area. But the fact is that that same area treated with a traditional disinfectant can be introduced to living material (viruses, bacteria, etc) between applications, thus contaminating the surface until it is treated again with another round of disinfectant. Our Shield disinfection though will protect that area not just for hours but days, so you are safe knowing that the treated area is killing living material even after application.


Below disinfecting on the pyramid is Sanitizing. Sanitizing is the removal of contamination and debris from a surface. Yes this can include viruses, bacteria, and fungi so sanitization and disinfection are very similar, but it does not HAVE TO INCLUDE KILLING OF LIVING MATERIAL. If all you are doing is sanitizing an area, you MIGHT be removing the viruses and microorganisms that are there, but there is a greater chance that you are leaving behind material that will replicate, or find a host as you are not using a detergent or disinfectant that is rated to kill those specific microorganisms.


Since sanitizing is not using as strong of a chemical agent as disinfecting is most cases, it takes more time to kill these viruses and microorganisms when applied. This application time is called a "dwell time". The dwell time, or time a chemical must remain on a surface (usually wet) varies from chemical to chemical. Some may have dwell times of 30 seconds while others it could be 5 minutes. You must know the dwell time for the chemical you are using, or else you are just cleaning, and not really killing. The killing of these viruses and microorganisms is really dependent on this exposure. Many people and companies think, well I just apply the chemical, wipe it off and the area is cleaned, but that is almost NEVER the case. Proper eduction, training, and testing MUST be performed and practiced so that you achieve the full effectiveness of the cleaning agent.


Don't get us wrong, there is a place for sanitizing versus disinfecting a surface, especially when there is food nearby, or you are working on a surface that is used in the preparation and/or storage of edible items. This is just one example, but some disinfectants, as we mentioned earlier, are harsh and should not be ingested. So you should only use sanitizing chemicals to clean these areas. Now SOME sanitizers have been rated to be effective against the coronavirus, they are also on the EPA list, but their effectiveness is not as high as some of the disinfectants that you can use.


In short there is a time and place for using sterilization, disinfection, and sanitation services. Right now yes, you may need to be using all 3 in your facility. When you are looking for a cleaning firm, make sure they can offer you all 3 services, and that they know the difference! Emerald City Cleaning has always been at the forefront of cleaning technology due to the demands of their global tech, retail, and social media clients here in Seattle. Our clients demand the best, and we problem solve to find those solutions. We welcome you to contact us to learn more about how we can help you with any of the services listed above.

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