The cleaning industry has always been a pioneer for implementing alternative ingredients in products
Years ago, phenols (carbolic acids) were a common ingredient in traditional cleaning and disinfecting products such as aerosol disinfectant sprays. Phenol was one of the earliest disinfectants, and despite the risk of burns on skin from phenol, it was worth this risk to prevent infections.1 Today, toxicity concerns with phenols have led most manufacturers to remove these ingredients from their products, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends wearing impermeable clothing, gloves, and goggles to handle products containing phenols and limits exposure to 5 ppm over an 8-hour shift.2-3
Phenols are just one of many historically traditional ingredients that have been phased out of cleaning and disinfecting products. Today, when we think of traditional, we would list highly effective disinfectants like bleach and quaternary ammonium chloride, but phenol-containing products are not on the list.
Alternative disinfectants work similarly to traditional actives against pathogens
Alternative disinfectants use ingredients that are often from renewable sources, often have fewer personal protective equipment requirements compared to traditional products. Some traditional active ingredients may also be used in alternative products if they meet the same stringent safety criteria. Regardless of whether a disinfectant is traditional or alternative, all disinfectant active ingredients share similar mechanisms of action, or ways they kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Despite the many bacteria and viruses in the world, and the many disinfectants we use to combat them, there are only two main ways to kill a pathogen: destroy its membrane or denature its proteins.
Destroy the membrane: Membranes are like a balloon holding water and provide the shape and structure for bacteria and some viruses. Destroying the membrane causes the cell’s contents to leak out and the cell dies. Two common ways disinfectants destroy membranes include dehydration and disruption (or poking holes).
- Dehydration. Dehydrating removes water molecules. Most cells and proteins require water molecules to hold their shape and to survive. Traditional active ingredients like alcohols, and alternative ingredients like thymol, work by dehydrating.
- Disruption. Cell membranes are slightly negatively charged. A positively charged molecule in a cell membrane will create a hole, causing the membrane to fall apart, like popping a bubble. This is how positively charged traditional disinfectant actives, like quaternary ammonium chlorides, work.
Denature proteins: Denaturing causes proteins to lose their shape irreversibly. This is what happens to an egg when it is cooked — the proteins are denatured and the egg changes texture. When a bacteria or virus is denatured, the proteins that allow them to function will stop working, causing them to die. Disinfectants may contain oxidizing agents or acids to denature proteins.
- Oxidizing agents. Oxidizing is a way to destroy proteins aggressively, by taking away important electrons that they need to stay together. Once oxidized, proteins cannot hold their shape, and fall apart. Traditional active ingredients like bleach and hydrogen peroxide are oxidizers. Alternative active ingredients such as hypochlorous acid work the same way.
- Acids. Acids denature proteins by breaking the chemical bonds that are required to hold the shape of the protein. The alternative disinfectant active ingredients lactic acid and citric acid work this way and are also common food preservatives because of their natural antimicrobial properties.
The active ingredient does not act alone
The active ingredient in a product is only one component that makes a disinfectant effective at killing pathogens. Many disinfectants also contain detergents, which help the active ingredient reach the microbe more easily to kill it, or other added ingredients that help keep the active ingredient stable for longer periods of time.
As we move towards a future using these alternative disinfectants, we should keep in mind that the entire formulation of the product, and not just the active ingredient, make a difference in how effective a disinfectant is. But most importantly, every approved disinfectant, whether alternative or traditional, must prove to the EPA that the product can kill what it claims to.
1. Hugo WB. Phenols: a review of their history and development as antimicrobial agents. Microbios. 1978;23(92):83-5. PMID: 390320.
What to Look for in a Green Disinfectant
In my previous blog, I debunked some myths about green cleaning and disinfecting. Now that we know it is possible to make a green disinfectant that is safe, sustainable, and effective, I wanted to provide the key features to look for in a green disinfectant and introduce a few third-party product certifications that confirm that your product has all these key features.
Key Features of Greener Disinfecting Products
When choosing a more approachable disinfectant, look for features impacting both the environmental impact of the product, in addition to features that demonstrate improved safety to the end-users and building occupants:
- Active ingredients that can be produced sustainably. Several ingredients deemed safer to the end user, such as citric acid, lactic acid, hypochlorous acid, and ethanol can be produced more sustainably than many traditional actives.
- Disinfectant formulation that uses ingredients safer for the environment and the end user. Avoid ingredients that produce volatile organic compounds and do not contain ozone-depleting compounds.
- Manufacturing process that minimizes environmental impact. For example, a manufacturer who powers their plants with renewable energy, reuses water from cooling machinery, and reduces and repurposes wooden pallets used in shipping is helping to minimize their environmental impact.
- Container or packaging made of recyclable material or minimizes plastics. For plastics, packaging that uses post-consumer recycled materials is preferred.
- Ingredients and packaging that do not accumulate in the environment. At the end of the product’s life, anything that ends up in the water should be rapidly biodegradable and not have any aquatic toxicity.
Third-party certifications can help identify products with some, or all, of these safety and environmental features
Finding information about manufacturing processes, or recycled content of packaging can be challenging on your own. A reliable third-party certification does the leg work for you and is your guarantee that a product has some, if not all, of these key features.
But, like the key features in a product, finding a credible third-party certification can be challenging, and some “certifications” may be false, or awarded to a manufacturer by the manufacturer and are little more than a marketing ploy. When looking at third-party certified products, look for a certification that appears unbiased and publishes the criteria for achieving certification.
See the table below to learn more about several of the most common, credible, third-party certifications. Safer Choice is an EPA-run program that covers the certifications Safer Choice and Design for the Environment. Safer Choice and GreenSeal only certify cleaning products (not disinfectants) and Design for the Environment (DfE) and EcoLogo only certify disinfectants. All of these, however, include requirements for safety and product efficacy, have ingredient limitations, include requirements to minimize aquatic toxicity, and require packaging recyclability and other environmental benefits.
|Certification||Products It Certifies||Additional Information|
|EPA Safer Choice1||Cleaning Products|
|SaferChoice is an EPA-run program whose goal is to certify products that perform as well as traditional cleaners and that are safer for human health and the environment.|
|EPA Design for the Environment (DfE)2||EPA-registered disinfectants|
• Ready-to-Use (liquids and wipes)
|All DfE products must meet the Safer Choice criteria and can only use approved active ingredients (citric acid, lactic acid, hypochlorous acid, hydrogen peroxide, peroxyacetic acid, ethanol, isopropanol, sodium bisulfate, chitosan).|
|Green Seal3||Cleaning Products|
|Green Seal is a global nonprofit. They certify many products, including cleaning products that meet specific safety and environmental criteria.|
|UL EcoLogo4-5||Cleaning Products and Disinfecting Products|
• Concentrates (or RTU if concentrate form is available)
|EcoLogo is a UL-run certification program. They have criteria to certify cleaners and disinfectant products based on a lifecycle assessment of the product’s environmental impact.|
Our final blog in this series will cover considerations for when and where to use safer and sustainable disinfectants in your facility.
1. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Safer Choice Standard and Criteria. EPA. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/standard
2. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Safer Choice - Related Programs. EPA. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/safer-choice-related-programs
3. GS-37 cleaning products for industrial and institutional use. Green Seal. (2022, January 29). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://greenseal.org/standards/gs-37-cleaning-products-for-industrial-and-institutional-use/
4. UL standards sales site. UL Environment Standard | UL Environment 2759. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.shopulstandards.com/ProductDetail.aspx?UniqueKey=23384
5. UL standards sales site. UL Environment Standard | UL Environment 2794. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.shopulstandards.com/ProductDetail.aspx?UniqueKey=24136
Demand for Green Cleaners and Disinfectants Is Increasing
Following an exponential increase in the use of disposable materials and cleaning and disinfecting products during the COVID-19 pandemic, many look to the next few years with sustainability in mind. A survey found that during the pandemic, 85% of people were thinking about sustainability either the same or more than before the pandemic.1
While it may appear that this is new, the push from consumers for sustainable and safer options has been increasing steadily over the past few decades.
In this first blog in a three-part series of articles on safer and sustainable disinfectants, I want to start by dispelling some myths about greener disinfecting for everyone from facility managers to product users.
Myth #1: “Green” Disinfecting Products Don’t Work as Well as Traditional Counterparts
Despite the widespread notion that it is impossible to make a green disinfectant, in the 1990s the EPA established a certification for cleaners and disinfectants deemed safer for human health and the environment while still proving efficacy against microorganisms using the same test methods as traditional products. Today, there are more than 2,000 products certified under the Safer Choice and Design for the Environment labels.
One key difference between traditional disinfectants and safer and sustainable options lies in the type of active ingredients that they use. There are specific allowable active ingredients for greener disinfecting products based on their lifecycle impacts on the environment and safety for the end user. Generally, safer and sustainable active ingredients for disinfectants should fall under the lower EPA toxicity classes and have minimal impact on the environment in the waste stream. See the chart below for examples of safer and more sustainable active ingredients and the types of pathogens they may be able to kill. As with any disinfectant, always check the master label for approved kill claims and remember that the entire formulation makes the product.
Myth #2: “Green” Products Are Not Actually Better for the Environment
This myth has a storied past. At one time, product manufacturers and marketers made broad claims about their product’s environmental benefits or sustainability that, unfortunately, were without merit and were misunderstood by customers about the benefits.2 This led to the widely held impression that green products don’t live up to the hype. This has been especially true for products marketed as green cleaners and disinfectants, where claims about biodegradability or safety are accompanied by products that do not work as well as their traditional counterparts.
This marketing practice was labeled “Greenwashing” and became such a big problem that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) developed the Green Guides3 — a guide for marketers about how to make substantiated claims about environmental benefit and safety that would not mislead the consumer. Since the first release of the Green Guides more than 20 years ago, the FTC has also introduced significant enforcement actions against companies making unsubstantiated claims of environmental or safety benefit, and they have brought over 100 of these enforcement actions against companies for making false claims.
Today, products must provide context and information to demonstrate the benefits they claim. For example, a company claiming that a product has low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) should have testing to prove this and should provide context for how the consumer can obtain the safety benefit and reduced health risks of lower VOCs. As another example, a product with claims to be biodegradable must show that it is biodegradable under the circumstances that it is normally disposed: a disinfectant wipe that is biodegradable in a soil-burial test but ends up in a landfill or an incinerator based on normal consumer usage, is not actually biodegradable.
Myth #3: “Green” Products Are Not Actually Safer for the End User
All disinfectants registered by the EPA are safe to use as directed. Every product registered with the EPA is required to submit safety information and required personal protective equipment recommendations to ensure the safety of the end user with the product.
A greener cleaner or disinfectant is expected to fall under the lower end of risk to end users under EPA criteria (toxicity ratings of either III or IV), and for products sold as concentrates, there are additional expectations that the product is packaged in a way to minimize accidental contact with the end user. While not always true, safer and sustainable disinfectants may often be food contact safe, may be safe to use without any personal protective equipment, and are considered safer to use around children, pets, and plants.
Next in the Series – Third-Party Certifications of Green Cleaners and Disinfectants
In my next blog, I will talk about the key third party certifications — EPA Safer Choice, EPA Design for the Environment, GreenSeal, and Ecologo — for safer and sustainable cleaners and disinfectants. A third-party certification is a quick way to know exactly which environmental and safety benefits a product has.
1. Cumbers, J. (2021, April 20). Despite coronavirus, 85% of Americans are thinking about sustainability as much as or more than ever. Forbes. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johncumbers/2020/07/29/despite-coronavirus-new-survey-shows-56-of-americans-are-thinking-about-sustainability-more-than-ever/?sh=6e5103704076
2. Green guides. Federal Trade Commission. (July 2021) Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/topics/truth-advertising/green-guides
3. Federal Trade Commission Guide for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/federal_register_notices/guides-use-environmental-marketing-claims-green-guides/greenguidesfrn.pdf
CIRI 2021: Healthy Buildings America
This year, the CIRI conference was a reminder that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Postponed twice and then shifted to a fully virtual format, it was hard to ignore the impact COVID-19 has had, and still has, on the cleaning industry. The CIRI conference sessions confirmed this feeling, with many sessions focused entirely on preventing COVID-19 and improving ventilation in buildings.
About the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI)
CIRI’s vision is to raise awareness of the importance of effective cleaning through scientific research. Through its 60 members, CIRI communicates peer-reviewed technical information and research about the science of cleaning the indoor environment. With an executive committee headed by John Downey, and a scientific advisory council, CIRI has been pushing to bridge the gap between research and practice in the cleaning industry.
This year, CIRI hosted the Healthy Buildings America conference, which was sponsored by the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ). There were more than 200 science-based workshops, oral and poster presentations. Below, I highlight some of my favorite sessions from the conference.
Indoor Air Quality and COVID-19
The conference placed a heavy focus on the quality of indoor air. The pandemic brought to light the importance of ventilation, and with people spending more and more time indoors, contaminants from dust, carpets, and natural gas have warranted further study.
- Just ventilate the buildings! Is it as simple as this? — Lidia Morawaska: This session highlighted that ventilation is not the simple solution it has been made out to be. For example, if there are more people in the building on a given day, the ventilation rate would need to increase. And on days where there are fewer people, if the ventilation rate remains high it is just wasting energy. For some pathogens, like SARS-CoV-2, ventilation alone may not be sufficient to prevent spread.
- Phthalates, organophosphates, and organobromines in HVAC filter dust — David Jarma: Plastics and fire-retardant chemicals from our environments make it into the air and dust that can build up in homes if they are not cleaned. This highlights the importance of maintaining good air filtration and cleaning to remove chemical contaminants from the environment.
- Disinfection by-products arising from indoor space disinfection for COVID-19 — Peter Holliman: Ozone-generation machines have been proposed as a method for air disinfection, but many have noted a lingering smell after using ozone generators. The researchers in this session measured aldehyde by-products that arose following the use of ozone generators in a classroom. They found that ozone generators created many aldehydes that lingered in the air for more than 2 hours following use. These results indicate that if we are to routinely disinfect air, we should be thoughtful about how we do it to prevent adding potentially harmful contaminants.
Cleaning and Disinfection: Real-World Studies Show Our Germiest Surfaces
- Assessment of enhanced cleaning and disinfection in hotels in Colorado, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — Richard Shaughnessy: Researchers measured the level of contamination of high-touch surfaces based on ATP measurements in 15 hotels across the United States. In the shared hotel areas, elevator buttons, door handles, and luggage carts were the most contaminated. In rooms, even after cleaning, toilet areas and TV remotes remained the dirtiest. In the hotel setting, surface contamination returned to pre-cleaning levels after 12 hours of use, suggesting that hotel common areas should be cleaned at minimum every 12 hours.
- Assessment of health-based cleaning of high contact surfaces in airport cabins and airports — Richard Shaughnessy: During the pandemic, airports and airplanes have been a safety concern. Before cleaning, seatbelt buckles, air vents, window shades, and tray table latches were the most contaminated, suggesting issues with the cleaning process during plane turnover. In the airport areas the loading bridge handrails, kiosks, and pin pads were the germiest. Compared with the hotel setting, airport areas have much higher traffic, and a minimum of one clean per 4 hours was deemed necessary to prevent surface contamination.
- A pilot study on school cleaning intervention — Richard Shaughnessy: In this study, researchers compared the rates of illness in schools that performed more frequent cleaning versus schools that did not. They found that schools with greater surface contamination (and less frequent cleaning) had a higher likelihood of students missing school due to a gastrointestinal illness.
What’s Next for CIRI?
This year, CIRI brought together members of the research community and the cleaning industry. The discussions and collaboration were remarkable and will only get better over time. CIRI now has membership opportunities open to cleaners, restorers, distributors, and manufacturers. This will bring more expertise from the industry to CIRI and increase the value of future conferences.
How CDC’s previous guidance may have forced healthy kids to stay home
Last February, the CDC issued guidance for how to reopen schools safely (we previously covered their guidance here). Integral to their plan was a call for frequent COVID testing, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine of cases and close contacts. CDC recommended that students, teachers, and staff who might have been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine, regardless of their test results, for between 7 and 14 days.1 Their guidance also recommended fully remote instruction for counties experiencing high transmission of COVID-19. Despite their best intentions to help schools open, if districts followed the CDC’s guidance, over 90% of them would not have been eligible to return to in-person instruction.
CDC has issued a few updates to address some of these issues, such as shorter or no quarantine for children who were vaccinated and masked, but they had not changed their guidance for quarantine and isolation of other close contacts until now. This recent shift in the CDC’s guidance for testing is a welcome one and is supported by several studies showing that children who are regularly tested for COVID-19 can stay in school in person with little risk of spreading infections to others.2,3
One of the largest studies of over 86 schools in the U.K. found that daily testing for close contacts instead of quarantine did not result in increased COVID-19 infections2 (Young 2021).
“Test to Stay” and reduced isolation recommendations will help keep children in school
“Test to Stay” is a strategy that combines contact tracing and testing at defined intervals (usually day 2 and day 5 after contact with an infected person) to allow students to continue in-person learning. What this means is that students who were close contacts of a person who tested positive for COVID-19 may continue in-person learning if they test negative during the 5-day period following their exposure. Previously, a close contact would have had to stay home and quarantine, regardless of their test results, forcing many healthy children to stay home.
In addition to the new testing strategy, CDC also updated their guidance on quarantine and isolation periods, which has reduced the quarantine period from 10 days to 5 days.4
Altogether, CDC’s updated guidance for operating schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic includes the following strategies:5
- Promoting vaccination: Vaccination is the most critical strategy to help schools safely resume operations. Schools are encouraged to provide information about COVID-19 vaccination to families and teachers. Recently, vaccines have been approved for children aged 5 and older.
- Consistent and correct use of masks: Universal indoor masking is recommended for all individuals aged 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status.
- Physical distancing: If students are wearing masks or implementing other prevention policies, 3 feet of distance between students is recommended.
- Screening testing: Testing people who do not have symptoms can prevent asymptomatic transmission. Schools may consider many testing strategies. For example, testing 10% of students, or pooled testing of cohorts of students.
- Ventilation: Improving ventilation can reduce the number of virus particles in the air. Schools can access government funds to improve their ventilation if they need financial assistance. To learn more, visit here.
- Handwashing and respiratory etiquette: Children should learn how to wash their hands properly and cover coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home when sick and get tested: Students who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and continue wearing a mask around others for another 5 days. Students and families should follow school protocols for reporting a positive test.
- Contact tracing and quarantine: Regular testing for COVID-19 and tracing close contacts by school staff can help prevent further spread by isolating infected cases and implementing testing for close contacts.
- Cleaning and disinfecting: Per the CDC’s guidance, cleaning once per day is usually sufficient to remove viruses that may be living on surfaces. Disinfectants on EPA List N can be used to remove any remaining germs. If a school has identified a positive COVID-19 case in the last 24 hours, they should clean and disinfect the space, and may disinfect more frequently if their school is in an area of high COVID-19 transmission, or where a large portion of the student body is unmasked and unvaccinated.
Together, this means that students who test negative for COVID-19 will be able to stay in school in-person, and in areas where testing is not available, students will not have to quarantine for as long and can return to in-person learning faster.
What to do when a COVID-19 case occurs in a school
Given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, it is not a matter of if, but when a COVID-19 case will happen in every school. The custodial staff, facility management, and school administration all need to be prepared to coordinate with each other to handle these cases. To help illustrate how these three disciplines can work together to respond to a COVID-19 case in a school, the table below compiles guidance from multiple CDC resources and our own recommendations.
For more information about building a comprehensive cleaning and disinfecting plan in schools, please see our K-12 Cleaning and Disinfection Protocol Guide
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Operational strategy for k-12 schools through phased mitigation. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/operation-strategy.html
2. Young BC, Eyre DW, Kendrick S, et al. Daily Testing for Contacts of Individuals with SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Attendance and SARS-CoV-2 Transmission in English Secondary Schools and Colleges: An Open-label, Cluster-randomised Trial. The Lancet. 2021; 398(10307)
3. Harris McCoy K, Lee V, Munna C, et al. A ‘Test to Stay’ Quarantine Strategy among Exposed Students Does Not Increase SARS-CoV-2 Transmission in Transitional Kindergarten through Grade 12 Schools in Los Angeles County, August 16, 2021 – October 31, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep.2021
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). What You Should Know About COVID-19 Testing in Schools. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/what-you-should-know.html
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Quarantine and Isolation. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html
7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Responding to COVID-19 Cases in K-12 Schools: Resources for School Administrators. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-contact-tracing/guide.html
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility. Retriever November 15, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html#certain-conditions
On November 26th, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, Omicron, a variant of concern1. Before beginning, I first want to applaud the scientists in South Africa for alerting WHO about this new variant, and also to reiterate that just because the variant was first identified in South Africa does not mean that it came from there. Their identifying it first speaks very highly to the surveillance methods they are conducting, and we in the scientific community are grateful for them. We are still learning about this new variant, and we are awaiting more information from the scientific community as well as governing health organizations. While we wait for answers to our questions, as an immunologist and an expert in cleaning and disinfecting, I want to share some things to be cautious about as we learn more about this new variant and a few reasons to be optimistic.
Be Suspicious of Early Predictions About Omicron’s Behavior
As with all new variants, the first piece of information we receive is what it is made of (genetically). In this case, we know that Omicron has the most mutations of any variant so far, and some of these mutations are shared with previous variants that have made them more transmissible and more able to evade the immune system.2 But predictions about a variant’s behavior cannot be made from these mutations, even if we have seen some of these changes before. The reason is that these changes influence each other. Think of each mutation like throwing stones in a pond to create a ripple — if you toss another stone it will change the pattern of the other ripples. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for more data and real experiments to truly understand the transmissibility and severity of Omicron.
Another thing to be cautious about are predictions of what will happen in the United States based on situations in other countries. For instance, South Africa is experiencing an outbreak caused by Omicron, but that does not necessarily mean that this will happen in the U.S. There are many differences between the landscape in South Africa and here. For example, vaccinations: only 25% of the population of South Africa is fully vaccinated, compared with 60% of the US population, and an additional 13% of the US population has had a booster dose.3 Another major difference is transmission levels before Omicron. Prior to Omicron, South Africa had lower circulating levels of SARS-CoV-2, whereas the US has been dealing with substantial transmission of the Delta variant for more than 6 months.3 To gain hold here, Omicron would have to be able to outcompete Delta and overcome vaccine immunity, and we don’t know if it can do either of those things at this point.
Even in the Worst-Case Scenario, We Are Not Starting from Scratch
New variants of SARS-CoV-2 will continue to emerge, and Omicron is unlikely to be the last of them. However, even in the face of this new variant and those to follow, there are many reasons to be optimistic.
- Immune protection from vaccines. The vaccines have continued to provide long-lasting protection from severe illness related to COVID, even with new variants. This is not likely to change with Omicron. We may see more infections, but protection from severe illness should remain.1
- Mitigation measures still in place in the U.S. In addition to vaccination, many US public health departments are still mandating and recommending wearing masks indoors, limiting large gatherings, and encouraging COVID testing. Additionally, the Biden administration has announced that the at-home rapid antigen tests for COVID will now be covered by private insurance, which will make them more accessible and help limit transmission.1
- Treatments for COVID-19. In the past year we have introduced multiple new treatments to help people already infected with SARS-CoV-2. Coming soon, the FDA may authorize two additional pill-based treatment regimens that sick people can take at home. This would make it easier to prevent severe illness in people who do become infected, which would lessen the impact of the virus.4
- Cleaning and disinfecting remain effective. There are strict product efficacy testing requirements established by the EPA to ensure a product can kill what a product claims it can. When a new virus emerges like COVID-19 and its variants, it’s not readily available for disinfectant efficacy testing in labs to meet EPA standards. In these situations, the EPA utilizes its Emerging Viral Pathogens Policy to quickly identify disinfectant products that can be used to kill the new virus based on that specific disinfectant’s efficacy against similar or more challenging viruses. For the COVID-19 virus variants, select disinfectant products have shown efficacy against similar COVID-19 variants and/or a harder-to-kill virus. EPA has stated that these products, which comprise List N, are expected to be effective against Omicron.5 We can still use these tools as we have before to prevent spread via surfaces, and this should hold true for variants past Omicron. To learn more about why our disinfectants will still work against variants, I recommend you read a blog by my colleague.
The Future with COVID-19: A New Player in Our Respiratory Illness Seasons
Before COVID-19, we were already familiar and accustomed to seasonal respiratory illnesses. This year, in addition to COVID-19, we have seen increased transmission of flu and colds as the economy has opened up and people gather together. The good news is that the same tools we have been using to fight COVID-19 will work for other respiratory viruses as well, and we hope these mitigation measures will continue in years to come:
- Hand hygiene. Washing hands can prevent the spread of illness-causing germs to surfaces and to other people.
- Wearing masks indoors and around unvaccinated people. Masks are a new addition in the US to prevent respiratory illness, but I hope they will stay in places like public transportation and doctor’s offices, as wearing masks can reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses by 50% or more.6
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces. Disinfecting the riskiest surfaces can reduce the number of germs on the surface, and the likelihood that they can spread to someone and cause illness. Disinfection should be used as one part in a complete prevention strategy that includes wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands frequently.
- Vaccinations for flu and SARS-CoV-2. These remain highly effective at preventing severe illness caused by these viruses.1
As information about Omicron and other COVID-19 variants become available, it’s vital that we continue to follow CDC Guidance and remain steadfast in our efforts to combat this virus using proven methods for mitigation.
1. Omicron variant: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html.
2. Covariants. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://covariants.org/variants/21K.Omicron.
3. Bhatia, G., Dutta, P. K., & McClure, J. (2021, December 8). Covid-19: The Latest Global Statistics, charts and maps. Reuters. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/.
4. Zimmer, C. (2021, December 7). New Covid Pills Offer Hope as Omicron looms. The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/07/science/merck-pfizer-covid-pill-treatment.html.
5. Do disinfectants kill newer variants of coronavirus? EPA. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/do-disinfectants-kill-newer-variants-coronavirus.
6. Science brief: Community use of masks to control the spread of SARS-COV-2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/masking-science-sars-cov2.html.
The Benefits of Electrostatic Technology for Disinfecting
When the pandemic began, facilities turned to new technology to meet cleaning and disinfecting needs such as electrostatic sprayers, resulting in a vast expansion of the number of facilities that have invested in learning and implementing this technology. The benefits of electrostatic technology are clear: by applying a charge through disinfectant droplets, electrostatics achieve greater surface coverage than spray and wipe methods and can be applied more quickly and cover more surfaces. These benefits make effective surface disinfection more achievable, especially for facilities pressed for time.
Real-World Testing: The Time it Takes to Disinfect Using Electrostatics
Real-world evaluations of electrostatic sprayers are just as important as manufacturer testing because they confirm that a product can deliver what it claims in practice. We recruited eight custodians to determine the time it takes to disinfect five different spaces using cart and handheld electrostatics devices. From this study we learned that with the right training, a classroom could be disinfected in about 2 minutes using an electrostatic device. Along the way, we also learned how to improve time and reduce ergonomic risks with devices.
Tips Learned from Research to Get the Greatest Benefits from Your Electrostatic Devices
Cord management is key. If your facility is using a corded device, improve disinfecting times and avoid cord struggles by providing these recommendations:
- Plug in the device as close to the center of the room as possible. This reduces the need to unplug the device and move to another outlet when the cord does not reach.
- Keep the cord close to the wall and move in straight lines. Walking in straight lines down rows of desks or objects will reduce cords getting wrapped around objects.
- Move methodically and learn your space. Every room will have an optimum path to follow to disinfect all the high touch surfaces.
Conserve disinfectant. One of the greatest benefits of electrostatic devices is their ability to effectively cover and wrap disinfectant around surfaces. Use a product that is designed and approved for use through electrostatics, with a short contact time (two minutes or less) to benefit most from the time savings of electrostatics. Using a product with a short contact time will also enable you to use less disinfectant, since you will likely not need to reapply to reach the contact time. Share these additional tips to improve speed and save disinfectant usage:
- Target your spray to high-touch objects. Not every surface needs to be disinfected. To learn more about disinfecting smart, visit our resource here.
- Count out 3 to 4 seconds of spray per object. In most cases, 3 to 4 seconds of spray in an S-shaped motion is sufficient to cover an object, like a desk or table in a classroom.
Turn off spraying in between objects. When custodians are walking between objects, it is best to press the trigger to turn off the spraying. This will ensure that disinfectant is conserved.
Work safer. Providing ergonomic improvements is not just good for custodians, it’s good for the business too. Custodial injuries result in more days off to recover or can limit someone’s ability to work long-term. Electrostatic devices can help improve ergonomics of disinfecting. To ensure custodians are working safe, show them how to protect their bodies while working:
- Limit bending at the waist when disinfecting.
- Alternate between right and left hands.
- Create movement from the shoulders rather than the wrists and elbows.
Finally, if you are struggling with how to optimize your process, ask for advice or further training. Manufacturers have lots of practice helping people learn how to best use their devices, and a skilled trainer can help you find solutions. For example, you can visit our resource center at CloroxPro.com for best-in-class training and educational materials.
Not Every Job Calls for a Device: What to Use Where and When
From working with our custodial participants, we learned that there is an optimal time and place for using electrostatic devices that maximizes the disinfecting efficiency and worker safety.
What to Use Where and When
|Electrostatic – Cart||Large spaces or multiple rooms:||End of day|
|Electrostatic – Handheld||A single room, or a small space:||Throughout the day, or end of day:|
|Manual Trigger Spray or Disinfecting Wipes||Small spaces:||Throughout the day:|
Disinfecting for Health
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, customers, students, and office workers have come to expect spaces to be disinfected regularly. Electrostatic devices present a promising method to improve the disinfection of public spaces through enhanced surface coverage. Using the tips learned from our end-users in real spaces, disinfecting with electrostatic technology is a fast, effective, and efficient way to help keep our public spaces cleaner and safer.
A Special Thanks
We would like to humbly thank the custodial staff and the Mount San Antonio College Facilities Department for their participation in this study.
Children Are at Higher Risk of Respiratory Illness This Year
The high rate of COVID-19 circulation in the U.S. as we head into winter leads to concerns, again, about a possible “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. Unlike last year though, if the “twindemic” arrives, it may hit children the hardest. Adults have been eligible for vaccination for months, and many are still working from home and limiting social interactions. But millions of kids have returned to school for in-person learning, and children under 12 years old are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. And already, dozens of schools have had to shut down due to outbreaks of COVID-19. The majority of states do not have mask mandates for schools, and several states have banned mask mandates, leaving schools with higher risks and fewer options to keep kids safe.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools will continue until the pandemic can be brought under control through greater population immunity. The Delta variant is currently responsible for more than 99% of infections of SARS-CoV-2,1 the virus that causes COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes a weekly report tracking SARS-CoV-2 infections in children. Currently, the level of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. is high,1 with 300 cases per day per 100,000 residents. In the first week of September alone, almost 250,000 infections were reported in children.2
The bottom line: Unlike last year, children increasingly are getting sick from COVID-19. Right now, children represent our most vulnerable segment of the population because of limited vaccine coverage and greater social interactions as a result of being back in school. In addition, unique challenges brought on by the pandemic, such as missed vaccinations and fewer pathogen exposures due to social distancing measures, may put them at higher risk for other respiratory illnesses as well.
Children are more likely than adults to be infected with multiple respiratory viruses at once
Prior to the pandemic, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic conducted a study to see how frequently people are infected with more than one respiratory virus at the same time. Among a sample of over 1,000 respiratory infections, almost 1 in 5 children were infected with more than one virus at the same time.3 Children were infected with multiple viruses 6 times more frequently than adults were. The reason for this is simple: young children do not have the immune experience that adults do; their immune systems have not encountered as many viruses as adults have. This increases the chances that kids will get infected with multiple viruses at the same time.
This summer, we observed off-season outbreaks of a common and sometimes serious respiratory disease, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The high levels of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the coming cold and flu season, in addition to other respiratory pathogens like pertussis (the bacterium that causes whooping cough), will increase the likelihood of co-infections in children this year. Even last year, with schools and businesses closed and influenza circulation brought to historically low levels, as many as 3.2% of, or 1 in 30, children infected with SARS-CoV-2 were infected with influenza at the same time.4
We are entering another uncertain flu season
“Reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early and possibly severe flu season” — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the U.S. currently, influenza cases are higher this year than at the same time last year. As we have started our reopening process, respiratory viruses like RSV have returned as well. Delayed vaccinations during the pandemic, combined with children going back to school, have placed children in an unusually risky position. While it is true that children are generally more protected from severe outcomes from COVID-19, influenza and other co-illnesses may put them at greater risk of hospitalization and death.
We must use every tool we have to protect children this year
Since flu viruses can live and spread to people from surfaces for up to 48 hours, and SARS-CoV-2 can live on surfaces from hours to days,5 CDC recommends routing cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces such as desks, toys, door knobs, and faucets and counters in restrooms.6 We recommend using disinfecting wipes on high-touch and frequently used surfaces throughout the day, and more thorough disinfecting at night using electrostatics.
This year, it’s not just about COVID-19. The conditions of the pandemic have put children at an increased risk of illness from bacterial and viral pathogens. Vaccination, hand hygiene, wearing masks, staying home when ill, and routine cleaning and disinfection are all going to be needed together to keep kids in school, healthy, and safe.
Download the K–12 Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Protocol Guide
For the latest information on COVID-19 and variants, visit our CloroxPro COVID-19 Hub.
1. CDC Covid Data tracker. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#variant-proportions.
2. Children and covid-19: State-level data report. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/.
3. Mandelia, Y., Procop, G. W., Richter, S. S., et al. (2021). Dynamics and predisposition of respiratory viral co-infections in children and adults. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 27(4).
4. Dao, T. L., Hoang, V. T., Colson, P., et al. (2021). Co-infection of SARS-COV-2 and influenza viruses: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Virology Plus, 1(3), 100036.
5. Wißmann, J. E., Kirchhoff, L., Brüggemann, Y., et al. (2021). Persistence of pathogens on inanimate surfaces: A narrative review. Microorganisms, 9(2), 343.
6. How to clean and disinfect schools to help slow the spread of flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from
Back to school will be a lot different this year
For some, the difference may be subtle: bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on the supplies list, making sure children have their lunch and a face mask before heading to the bus. For others, there may be intense anxiety about sending their kids back to school before they have been vaccinated for COVID-19. The concern about our children getting sick at school has never been higher – but the threat of illness-causing germs at school is in fact, old news.
Before COVID-19, back to school meant increased risk of exposure to illness-causing germs in school-aged children
When I was a child, back to school meant I was going to get sick — a lot. I caught strep throat, a common illness caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, 7 or 8 times each year. I felt like I spent more time home sick from school than I did at school. To prevent this, my parents eventually had my tonsils removed, which I then proudly brought to school for show-and-tell. Turns out, I was not alone — there are an estimated several million cases of strep throat each year1. Streptococcus pyogenes can be spread by children who have no symptoms and can be acquired by touching contaminated droplets on surfaces. I often wonder — if my school had disinfected surfaces more frequently, could I have been at school more, and at home in pain less?
In addition to strep throat, there are many other illnesses that children contract during the school year. Each year, colds result in an average of 189 million missed school days2. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has made headlines recently for outbreaks in the southern U.S. this summer. RSV can be serious, and results in 58,000 hospitalizations of children under 5 each year3.
Some pathogens can outlive the entire school year on surfaces
E. coli, a bacterium found in feces that causes gastrointestinal illnesses, can survive on surfaces for up to 300 days4. If a sick child brings it to school on the first day, E. coli can survive the entire school year on surfaces. One study found that up to 59% of desks in a school were contaminated with fecal matter5. Norovirus, another pathogen that causes gastrointestinal illness, is a common source of outbreaks in schools that may result in closures and can require costly cleaning measures.
Normally, hand hygiene would be an effective measure for preventing illnesses from pathogens picked up from surfaces. But kids being kids, have a hard time following and practicing hand hygiene, and they touch more surfaces than the average adult. In fact, 4 out of 5 children don’t wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom, and children touch and retouch up to 300 surfaces in 30 minutes6,7. As a result, teachers are exposed to 7 times more bacteria per square inch of surface than doctors5. That’s a lot of opportunities for pathogens to spread, that can cause illnesses and missed school days for students and teachers.
Proper cleaning and disinfecting can help bring kids back to school safely — during the pandemic and beyond
Keeping kids healthy and in school ensures that they will all have the best opportunities to learn. Every child deserves to be healthy and safe in their school. We can help achieve this with a Smart Disinfection program. Smart Disinfection means focusing on high touch surfaces — desks, door handles, toys, light switches, and restrooms, prioritizing disinfection of higher risk areas and disinfecting correctly. By implementing Smart Disinfection, we can prevent our children from picking up germs that can make them sick, so that they can stay healthy, stay in school, and live well.
Learn more about Smart Disinfection
Learn more about Smart Disinfection and how to implement Smart Disinfecting practices in your school by following the links to our resources below:
- Watch our webinar on Smart Disinfection to learn more about how to adopt a cleaning and disinfecting protocol that is effective and efficient
- Download the K-12 environmental cleaning and disinfecting protocol guide to help you identify how to clean and disinfect your school
For the latest information on COVID-19 and variants, visit our CloroxPro COVID-19 Hub.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surveillance for Group A Strep Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/surveillance.html (accessed July 19, 2021)
2. Fendrick MF et al. The Economic Burden of Non–Influenza Related Viral Respiratory Tract Infection in the United States. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(4):487-494
3. Rha B, Curns AT, Lively JY, et al. Respiratory Syncytial Virus–Associated Hospitalizations Among Young Children: 2015–2016. Pediatrics. 2020;146(1): e20193611
4. Wißmann, J. E., et al. (2021). Persistence of pathogens on inanimate surfaces: A narrative review. Microorganisms, 9(2), 343.
5. Gerba, C. P. The Burden of Norovirus in Schools; Cengage Learning, 2016
6. Guinan, M. E.; McGuckin-Guinan, M.; Sevareid, A.; Philadelphia, M.; The Agnes Irwin School, F. Who Washes Hands after Using the Bathroom?
7. Alliance for Consumer Education. Cleaning Definitions - Disease Prevention | Alliance for Consumer Education https://www.consumered.org/programs/health-wellbeing/cleaning-definitions (accessed Feb 14, 2019)
With a proud history of producing professional athletes like Peyton Manning and Justin Gatlin, the University of Tennessee (UT) strives for excellence both on and off the field. That same code of excellence extends to their high standards of cleanliness, not only within the dorms and academic buildings, but also within their athletic training and performance facilities. We spoke with Gordon Nelson Jr., Director of Facilities Services at the UT Knoxville, about how his team helps keep UT athletes at the top of their game through upholding cleaning and disinfection protocols.
A Track Record of Cleanliness
Gordon has been working within the Facilities Services team at various schools and universities since 1977, joining UT in 2011. Upon his arrival in Knoxville, Gordon made it his mission to support UT’s academic and athletic programs through his work within the Facilities Services team. Gordon and his team pair manual cleaning and disinfecting with the Clorox® Total 360® System to treat a variety of areas, from classrooms and stairwells to training spaces and locker rooms, to keep students and athletes healthy. In fact, Gordon has even connected with CloroxPro’s Research and Development Team to ensure that the Clorox® Total 360® System could be used to disinfect several non-traditional items – like football helmets. “In my opinion, our CloroxPro products are our best secret weapon in keeping our players healthy off the field so they’re ready for whatever challenges they face on the field,” said Gordon.
Pathogens vs. Athletic Facilities: A Common Rivalry
Since athletic facilities are high-touch, high traffic spaces, it is fairly common for pathogens to quickly spread in these environments. In fact, contact sport athletes that use these spaces are 10-15 times more likely to contract Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) than the general population1,and up to 31% of college athletes are colonized with this pathogen2. These facts show how important cleaning and disinfection of athletic facilities is to prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness.
COVID-19: The Unexpected Opponent
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in the perception of the importance of the role Gordon and his team plays across the campus. While COVID-19 is not primarily spread via surfaces, the COVID-19 pandemic elevated awareness of the importance of cleaning and disinfecting to prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness across the campus. “From preparing the dorms for students this fall to disinfecting our sporting arenas after our spring sports games, we’re remaining diligent to make sure all areas are cleaned and disinfected properly to help prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness. In fact, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, all 60 of our Facilities Services staff members have shared they feel more comfortable on our campus than anywhere else – even in their own homes.”
Coaching the Next Generation
One of the ways that UT’s disinfection protocols are set apart from other institutions is their third-party certification program with the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA). This 22-week training program has been a staple of the UT Facilities Services team for over eight years, addressing all areas of care including newer disinfection protocols, such as proper usage of the Clorox® Total 360® System. The program is available to staff members with varying levels of familiarity with the English language, and translators are available to ensure that the material is easily accessible for all.
In fact, Gordon shared that training his staff has been his number one priority and the most helpful way to maintain his athletic training facilities. “By training our staff about the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing a space, we’ve been able to maximize our efforts and maintain a cleaner and safer environment across all of our facilities.”
The Disinfection Playbook
Gordon’s top piece of advice for other athletic training facility managers is to dig deep into the day-to-day disinfection protocols that are currently being implemented in the space. “When COVID-19 hit, I found that many university staff members weren’t even aware of our standard pre-pandemic cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Before any additional supplies were purchased, we gathered together and mapped out how our facilities were currently being cleaned. With this information in mind, we were able to determine which spaces needed additional disinfection and consulted with our experts on purchasing the right products for the right space.”
Once the spaces and products were accounted for, Gordon set to work training his staff on the latest CDC disinfection guidance – as well as proper use of different disinfection devices like the Clorox® Total 360® System. He set up a schedule to inspect a space, assign someone to attend to the space’s disinfection needs, then reinspect for any additional cleaning. Protocols and successfully cleaned spaces were recorded through the university’s online management portal – which is accessible to the entire Facilities Services team, as well as many staff members. This way, teachers and other staffers could see which areas had already been disinfected and which ones were still awaiting attention. Although these changes to UT’s cleaning and disinfection protocols were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon and his staff plan to continue updating their protocols on an ongoing basis. Gordon noted, while they were able to address the day-to-day effects of pathogens in athletic facilities pre-pandemic, this revamp will help them to get ahead of the next outbreak and upcoming cold and flu season.
Looking Ahead to Next Season
With states and universities reopening, Gordon and his team feel prepared to welcome students and community members back to campus. On May 14, UT held its first full-occupancy baseball game against Arkansas at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville. The university’s 21,678 seat basketball arena and 102,455 seat football stadium are also planning to open over the summer for athletic practices and events – gearing up for the September 7 return to full capacity. Gordon and his team are ready to tackle the upcoming season with their Clorox® Total 360® System and smarter approach to cleaning and disinfecting protocols.