The difference between cleaning and disinfecting: a two stage cleaning process

For many people, the ‘two stage cleaning process’ is something familiar. You may have heard it spoke

For many people, the ‘two stage cleaning process’ is something familiar. You may have heard it spoken about or had it in the back of your mind when cleaning because you read it somewhere. As a result, people often know about it, but don’t fully understand its purpose and importance. We wanted to take some time to explain the process and tackle a common misconception; that cleaning and disinfecting are the same thing. They’re not, and the existence of COVID19 makes it important for people to know the difference. 

Cleaning vs disinfecting: the two-stage cleaning process

Let’s begin with something we’ve all used recently, hand sanitiser. Have you ever wondered why hand sanitiser tells you to apply it to clean hands? ‘I thought I was applying this TO clean my hands?!’ It’s because cleaning and sanitising/disinfecting are the different stages of the two stage cleaning process.  

The above scenario is relevant for many products, such as surface sanitisers or general disinfectants. They should always be applied to clean surfaces because that’s when they are most effective. Cleaning any surface with soap and hot water is effective. It reduces the number of germs on the surface, and more importantly, removes dirt, grease and dust build-up. Germs can hide in the dirt or under the grease and sanitisers (which are not normally good degreasers) can’t break through this layer to neutralise the germ microbes. Once cleaned, surfaces can be more effectively disinfected or sanitised. This is where the germs and bacteria are killed. That, in a nutshell, is the two stage cleaning process – the first step is about reducing’ and the second step is about essentially neutralising’

The national bodies who work in this territory publish useful content which is well worth taking the time to read. Generally accepted definitions of the two stages are as follows: 

  • Cleaning: cleaning with soap and water removes dirt, impurities and some of the germs from surfaces. It lowers the risk of spreading infection. 
  • Disinfecting: disinfecting kills/neutralises germs on surfaces. There is a lower risk of infection by killing germs on a surface after cleaning. 

‘The risk of spreading infection is lowered’. This is very important. We’re trying to keep risks to as minimal a level as possible. Therefore, the two stage cleaning process is important to safeguard against infections such as COVID19 spreading throughout our communities. 

When is it relevant?

The two stage cleaning process is mostly spoken about in the catering and kitchen settings. However, particularly because of COVID19, it should be considered in almost every walk of life. From cleaning your office to make it safe for staff, to tools shared by staff on a construction site. We must work towards ensuring that the most stringent possible measures are taken. If you take the time to do some research, there are many great resource hubs for businesses, public spaces and households seeking guidance. For example, the Food Standards Agency provide great information about getting on top of cleaning practices via this link here. The information is relevant to many industries, so is well worth reading.

Other important considerations

The two stage cleaning process is proven and effective. However, it is equally important to spend some time looking into what products are most effective and appropriate for your particular scenario. We’re more than happy to provide guidance on what is most appropriate for you, just get in touch and our team can give the advice needed. 

Finally, it feels a little awkward to have to say it, but please follow the instructions accurately when using cleaning and disinfection products. Frequency of use, contact times, appropriate use of PPE, dilution rates and correct usage are all important to get the best results and ensure safe, clean environments. Using sanitisers and disinfectants on dirty, uncleaned surfaces does not work. It is impossible for the sanitiser or disinfectant to do its job effectively. That’s why the two stage cleaning process is so important.

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