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Demystifying the Fog of Disinfection

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the heightened scrutiny on cleaning and disinfecting, one of the biggest challenges facing professional cleaning managers is cutting through the noise. Dominating the narrative are a slew of mixed, conflicting and false information, regarding the purchase of tools and products that promise miraculous results.

The debate around whether a disinfecting product will kill SARS-CoV-2 has been covered at length. The EPA list of products that are approved for use against the virus can be found here: Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announced products were approved for use against SARS-CoV-2 if they met the criteria of list N.

While the microbial efficacy of traditional disinfectant products is fairly straight forward, there are several emerging technologies such as UV lights, electrostatic sprayers, foggers and misters to be aware of as they are not all created equally. Historically, I have maintained a healthy dose of skepticism for seemingly fantastic claims about fantastic new products, including electrostatic sprayers, as I originally did not recognize the need for them or understand the problem they solved for professional cleaning managers.

While electrostatic sprayers are not new, their application to daily cleanin is. It’s for this reason, I’m eager to share this whitepaper on evaluating electrostatic technology devices. It clearly outlines the nuances of why the technology is effective when deployed properly. I don’t expect anyone to take my observations at face value, however, I always apply three basic questions to determine the value for any given organization. Before making a large investment, I encourage you to read the full paper here and use the recommendations below to make the best decision for your cleaning operation.

Practical Evaluation and Application

Is it safe?

The safety of your workers and the building occupants should always be the top considerations when evaluating a new technology.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the scramble is on for cleaning operations to stock up on disinfecting technology. With that comes the deluge of new product innovations with bold promises. Before making the investment, cross-reference kill claims with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) database. U.S. law requires that any product that claims to kill specific pathogens must be registered with the EPA. While this was somewhat of a black box previously, the EPA has recently published clear guidance on the use of disinfectants through electrostatic sprayers. The rationale for submitting data before market approval is because a product’s safety and effectiveness may change based on use.

If a product’s label does not include disinfection directions for electrostatic spraying, it means the EPA has not reviewed the data on whether the product is safe and effective when used by this method. Therefore, if you are evaluating an electrostatic sprayer for your facility, be sure to make sure the disinfectant you’re using has been approved for use in an electrostatic sprayer.

Will it work?

Before signing a purchase order for two dozen electrostatic sprayers, take the time to evaluate whether they will be a good fit for your operation. As counterintuitive as it may sound, slow down.

My suggestion is to pilot one machine, with one team, in one area, on a single shift. Some questions to answer include: 1. Who will use the product — is it a customer service tool or deep cleaning tool for a cleaning specialist? 2. Where and on what will it be used? Pilot in places with the most chances for realistic usage. 3. When will the product be used (i.e., will the building be full or empty, will kids be in or out of school)?

Before getting started, make sure everyone on the team is clear on how the unit is used, the areas the unit will be used, and plan to keep a daily log to record usage data.

At a minimum, usage data should include: how much cleaning product was used during the shift, how long the sprayer was in use, and what areas were covered. Compare this with your previous process and make a data-based decision on whether the technology is a good fit for your operation.

What tasks does it improve or replace?

Based on your pilot data, you’ll have a good understanding of whether the product will work for you, and how it can benefit your organization. Use the productivity rates from your pilot to drive decision-making to implement the product into your organization moving forward. Include all the other variables you want to account for, adjust workload, update procedures and train personnel to follow them. Make sure everyone in the organization is clear on what has changed, how the new product is going to improve the operations. Do the due diligence before making the change.

My Final Take

In conclusion, as with any new technology, due diligence is my recommendation before making changes to your daily cleaning program. In this modern age of heightened scrutiny on daily cleaning, it is more important than ever to realistically meet the demand while confidently mitigating the worries that come with a pandemic.

The way we clean up our facilities daily may be getting more attention now because of the pandemic. However, we’re still responsible for cleaning up during outbreaks of influenza, norovirus and countless other forms of infectious disease. The process has not changed — the technology however might help make it more manageable.

Ben Walker is a paid consultant for CloroxPro.