Understanding the importance of true cleanliness in infection control

The recent COVID-19 / Coronavirus pandemic has brought hygiene back to the forefront of the mind. We now all know that we must wash our hands more frequently, and that we must regularly seek to remove germs from touchpoint surfaces and any surfaces with bodily fluids present.


But there are some large misconceptions about what this actually means. Even the government advice can be slightly misleading.


Analogy: cleaning a floor at home vs in a commercial building

Were you to ask 100x people on a high street how to clean a floor, 99% would probably reply “with a mop”. This is because it’s how they do it at home. And at home that’s probably effective.


But imagine if you had hundreds or thousands of people a day in your home. All of a sudden, swilling a mop around isn’t going to be an effective way of removing that level of contamination.


Disinfection requires a clean surface

“Disinfection is a process that reduces the number of micro-organisms to a level at which they are not harmful and is only effective if the surface is thoroughly cleaned with a detergent solution beforehand” (NHS)


Since the COVID-19 outbreak we have seen countless videos and photos of sanitising wiping (either spray and wipe or using wipes) taking place. But is this effective? It is clear that you need to ensure that the surface is thoroughly and effectively cleaned first before germs can be removed.


Killing germs at home vs in a commercial building

Whilst in a domestic setting, where contamination does not build up to significantly, spray and wipe sanitisers can play an effective role in helping to remove build-up of germs, in a commercial setting, with much higher usage and therefore much higher levels of dirt on surfaces, the process needs to be:

  1. Clean
  2. Disinfect


Sanitiser sprays or products claim to both clean and remove germs. It could be that these are effective, but don’t assume.


Example: wet areas of health clubs

We do a lot of work in the barefoot areas of health clubs. Here, unfortunately, floors and shower walls are almost always ingrained with body fat and other contamination. Using a sanitiser on these surfaces simply will not work. They need an effective clean first.


Often, for COSHH and other reasons, club staff only have sanitisers which also act as neutral detergents. These simply will not remove the dirt and, as such, nor will they effectively disinfect.


Unfortunately, partly as a result of the above, most clubs’ hard surfaces in these wet areas have ingrained contamination. Even if the appearance of the surface is even, it’s likely to be evenly dirty. For example:


Our experience is that it’s almost impossible to fully remove this with either in-house or outsourced daily cleaning teams (for a variety of reasons including that mentioned above). Read about this on Linkedin here.


Now is not the time for a 17-year-old lifeguard, a sanitiser spray, a microfibre cloth, and some hope.