Things to know about disinfecting and cleaning surfaces

Before diving into the matter, let me explain the scientific difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning removes everything – dirt, debris, germs, dog hair – from surfaces. On the other hand, sterilization, killing everything – typically viruses and bacteria. “Cleaning is something we may want to do often, but we need to worry about killing (disinfecting) only the dangerous, disease-causing germs,” says Dr. Hartmann. And we can usually predict where they will be.

For example, you may not need to disinfect your kitchen counter every day, unless you’ve handled raw meat. You also don’t need to obsessively disinfect the bathroom unless someone in the house has an infection spread through feces, like salmonella or norovirus.

For standard messes – like when my 11-year-old dripped maple syrup all over the kitchen table at breakfast – you don’t need a disinfecting wipe as soap and water will remove sticky residue. . (Soap is also great for removing germs from your hands, but you need to lather well and wash for 20 seconds.)

You ask why not disinfect everything? There are long-term risks associated with the misuse of certain disinfectants, such as quaternary ammonium compounds. These “traces,” as they are called, are found in many popular household cleaning products, including Lysol and Clorox sprays and wipes. Dr Hartmann says these cleaners can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance. Also – although the experts I spoke to disagree on how much to worry about this – disinfectants like bleach, ammonia and quats release smoke that can be harmful, says Pawel Misztal, a chemist. Disinfectant Research School at the University of Texas at Austin, said. So use sanitizer when you need to disinfect, but not when you want to just clean.

When you have reason to worry about bad germs, yes, kill them all with a disinfectant, but remember that some chemicals work better than others. Bill Wuest, a chemist at Emory University, says soap and water can often kill germs, but it won’t be as effective as other, stronger options if you’re trying to get rid of bacteria on a surface. face. Much more effective are disinfectants such as bleach, isopropyl alcohol (cleaning alcohol), ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, and quat-based cleaners.

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