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Antibacterial, Disinfectant, and Sanitizers Explained

July 5, 2011

The terms antibacterial, disinfectant, and sanitizer all sound very effective, official and medical but very few people really understand what these terms really mean.  These claims are regulated by the USDS and EPA, so they have very specific definitions, and one should take a moment when learning about products that tout these claims.  To use a term like "antibacterial" on a label, the manufacturer must run lab tests to prove they work, and then have these tests and the labels approved by the above agencies. When these claims are made on a cleaner you can be 100% sure of what the products does and does not do because of the regulations.

Antibacterial cleaners do not actually kill germs. To carry the claim of being an antibacterial a product must suppress the growth and reproduction of bacteria only.  Think of these items more as a type of bacterial birth control. Many people think they kill all germs, but this is not the case.  They also only work on bacteria, so any hope of destroying or controlling a virus or a fungus would be unfounded.

Sanitizers are used to reduce, but not eliminate, micro-organisms from an environment. The term reduced, when referring to Sanitizers, is defined by the products ability to remove micro-organisms down to such a level that the surface is considered safe by public health codes or regulations.  Normally this is defined as killing 99.9% of micro-organisms when in use.

A Disinfectant destroys or irreversibly inactivates infectious micro-organisms, but not necessarily their spores.  The technical measure to meet regulations for a disinfectant is that it must kill 99.9999% of micro-organisms. There are two types of disinfectants to consider: 1) Hospital-type and 2) General. Hospital-type disinfectants can sound extra impressive but to earn this claim the product only has to kill 3 common hospital micro-organisms, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella cholerasesuis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Unless you are cleaning a doctor’s office or hospital, there is no need to waste your money on a hospital grade disinfectant.  The normal residence does not have a lot of staph infection running around that needs to be killed.

In all cases be sure to clearly read the labels on these products before you use them.  Be mindful of things that can affect how well these products work.  As an example, most sanitizers and disinfectants must be left on the surface being cleaned for a period of time to be effective. In some cases this is as long as 10 minutes.  If the product is just sprayed on and then wiped off it will not provide the results you expect.  If you have a client that really needs the benefits of these products, such as someone undergoing chemotherapy, you will want to be sure to give the product time to do the job.

Derek ChristanBy Derek Christian

Owner My Maid Service with offices in Cincinnati and Dallas

Copyright 2010 Home Cleaner Magazine.

Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Home Cleaner Magazine: Antibacterial, Disinfectant, and Sanitizers Explained.

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