Clean, Sanitize, Disinfect, or Sterilize?

Date: 23.10.2020 | Shing Yee

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As the pandemic unfolds around the world, we have all become more hygienic concerned. We clean our living area more often, sanitize our hands more frequently, disinfect our workplace every day, and sterilize equipment regularly.

Wait, have you noticed that I am using the terms “clean”, “sanitize”, ”disinfect” and “sterilize” in the sentence above? Can you tell how different are they? And did you ever used these terms interchangeably?

Well, today we are not going to talk about how to clean or sterilize the gloves.

Instead, we want you to get the concept right first. After you get the concept right, it will be easier for you to apply the concept in cleansing your gloves or even other equipment that are prone to pick up bacteria and germs to achieve the desired outcome.

Let us categorize cleansing methods into 4 levels, from basic level to high level methods: cleaning, sanitization, disinfection, and sterilization.

Imagine it as a scale, at one end the cleansing method it is not killing any bacteria, and along the scale until the end of the scale, those cleansing methods are effective in killing bacteria, just the percentage of bacteria and viruses being killed varies.

% of bacteria and viruses killed in a scale

Disclaimer: This article is available in an effort to explain the different cleansing methods and their limits. Nastah cannot guarantee that your equipment will be free from Covid-19 (or other virus contamination) post any cleaning/cleansing process.

First, let us start with cleaning.

What is cleaning?

Cleaning is the act of removing unwanted substances, such as dirt and contaminants from an item or environment using detergent and water. It is normally done as the first step for preventing allergic reactions and cross-contamination.

Cleaning is done by using water with detergents, soap, or cleaning products, and physically scrubbing them to remove the germs from the surface. As you clean, remember to change your water frequently to avoid further spread of dirt or germs.

Take our gloves as example, since they are all reusable, we will usually recommend user to clean the gloves using mild soap, rinse with clean water and air dry the gloves for reuse next time.

Thorough cleaning is required before high-level disinfection and sterilization because inorganic and organic materials that remain on the surfaces of instruments will affect the effectiveness of the disinfection and sterilization processes.

But remember, cleaning does not kill bacteria, viruses, mold or fungi, it only removes them from the item or surroundings.

cleaning does not kill bacteria

 

What is sanitization?

Sanitization is a technique to reduce the number of microorganic pathogens to a level where they cannot be harmful. 99.9% of microorganisms must be eliminated from the surface to achieve this.

According to the definition from CDC, a sanitizer is a chemical that kills 99.999% of the specific test bacteria in 30 seconds under the conditions of the test.

In comparison to cleaning, sanitization kills most germs but not all of them.

But before you sanitize, the dirt and debris must be removed through cleaning.

sanitization kills most germs but not all of them

The most common chemicals used in sanitizing contain chlorine, such as spraying chlorine gas, or mixing chlorine bleach with water at a proper ratio.

Why bleach is the choice for sanitization? Because bleach is a strong and effective disinfectant.

Its active ingredient- sodium hypochlorite, denatures protein in microorganisms and therefore it is effective in killing bacteria, fungus and viruses.

Since it is so strong, we need to take extra precaution steps when using it for sanitization purpose. Too strong of bleach portion might lead to accidents which can be harmful to health, too weak may reduce its effectiveness and unable to kill germs.

Make sure to keep the windows open for a good ventilation when diluting or using bleach. And do not forget to put on rubber gloves as bleach might irritate the skin. It is also important to let the solution stay on the surface for a recommended period of time.

However, some viruses do not respond to sanitization, and, therefore, you should opt for a more effective method of elimination like disinfection.

And do not get this wrong:

Even though diluted bleach can be used as sanitizer, please do not confused it with the hand sanitizer! They are totally different things! Disinfectants such as bleach are only suitable to apply to inanimate object, they are not suitable to be used on the skin.

What is disinfection?

Disinfection is an approach used to reduce the number of microorganisms that are actively reproducing and increasing from a concentrated level to a level where their presence is so minimal that they can hardly cause damages to healthy individuals.

Disinfecting uses chemicals to kill 99.999% of germs on hard, non-porous surfaces or objects.

Wait, isn’t it sounds like the same as sanitization? Seems like both sanitization and disinfection aim to reduce the number of microorganisms isn’t it?

You might then ask, 

What is the difference between sanitization vs. disinfection?

Well, the difference really boils down to the fact that sanitizing solutions are not as strong as disinfecting solutions. Disinfectants kill more germs than sanitizers.

disinfectants kill more germs than sanitizers

Some products can be both sanitizers and disinfectants, such as bleach. As mentioned in the sanitization’s discussion above, bleach is a strong disinfectant. When it is very diluted, it can be a sanitizer; when it is concentrated, it can be a disinfectant.

Other than bleach, disinfecting agent that contains chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide are suitable for disinfection purpose.

Disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. Always clean the surface before carry out sanitization or disinfection job.

And don’t ever think about mixing the cleaning agent with the disinfectants together would kill two birds with one stone (by thinking that you get to clean and disinfect at the same time). Not only it is likely to damage or discolor sensitive surfaces, it is also dangerous as it might poses risks that will cause harm to the health due to the chemical reaction that happened between cleaning agents and disinfectants!

This article has explain it well on why it would be a bad idea to mix cleaning chemicals.

Both sanitization and disinfection only work on hard, nonporous surfaces. Other porous surfaces eg. carpets cannot be sanitized or disinfected with a chemical product.

So you might ask,

When should I disinfect and when should I sanitize?

Frequently touched surface areas that are at high risk for collecting lots of germs eg. doorknobs, toilet handles, light switches and sinks etc. are recommended for disinfection, while any surfaces that don't normally come into contact with dangerous bacteria, or those that are best cleaned without powerful chemicals would be best for sanitization.

For example, cooking tools or children's toys would be best for sanitization, as you don't want those coming into contact with powerful and potentially harmful chemicals.

And make sure to read the labels and follow the instructions on the products.

If the label promises to just sanitize a surface, the fine print might say that it will kill 99.9% of the bacteria, but not mention if it is effective against viruses or fungi.

If you are looking for a higher-level cleaning method after sanitizing, you might want to look for disinfectants as they can kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi when used properly.

What is sterilization?

Sterilization is a process used to destroy or eliminate all forms of microbial life from an item. Sterilization is necessary for the complete destruction or removal of all microorganisms including spore-forming and non-sporeforming bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.

It is the best method for killing bacteria and viruses. Therefore, it is the most common technique to prevent the spread of diseases.

sterilization is the best method to kill bacteria

Classic sterilization techniques using saturated steam under pressure or hot air are the most reliable and should be used whenever possible. The exposure to heat kills bacteria and viruses completely.

Other sterilization methods include filtration, ionizing radiation (gamma and electron-beam radiation), and gas (ethylene oxide, formaldehyde).

Ethylene oxide and hydrogen peroxide gas works by ruining the DNA of the microorganisms, and, thus, the pathogens cannot mutate or reproduce. It also works the same way on viruses.

And autoclave is one of the common methods of sterilization by exposing the instrument or equipment to steam under pressure.

Just a little sharing here:

We do have client that sterilize our gloves using autoclave machine, however this requires precise control of temperature, pressure, and the time of the gloves inside the machine.

If it is not done correctly, it poses a risk of losing the mechanical and chemical properties of the gloves and even destroying the gloves.

Make sure to consult the manufacturer first before you try to sterilize any equipment.

Summary

I hope you have now learned to differentiate the different cleansing methods in this article. As a recap, here are the key takeaways:

  1. Cleaning does not kill bacteria, viruses, mold or fungi, it only removes them from the item or surroundings.
  2. Sanitizing kills most germs but not all of them.
  3. Disinfectants kill more germs than sanitizers.
  4. Sterilization is the best method for killing bacteria and viruses.
  5. Always start with cleaning before proceed to sanitize or disinfect.
  6. Do not attempt to mix any cleaning agents with disinfectants!
  7. Disinfect frequently touched surface areas.
  8. Cooking tools or children's toys would be best for sanitization.
  9. Both sanitization and disinfection only work on hard, nonporous surfaces. 

A friendly reminder here:

No matter you are doing a basic cleaning or a higher-level disinfection, make sure to wear rubber gloves when you are handling cleaning agents, sanitizer, or disinfectants.

As you know those chemicals are harsh for the bacteria and viruses, let's do not forget that they are harsh to our skin as well!

If you are looking for gloves’ recommendation for your market or even for own use, feel free to reach out to us via the link below! We have a wide range or rubber gloves and nitrile gloves that might suit your needs from basic to deep, thorough cleaning.

talk to our gloves expert

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