If you’re looking for professional disinfection and sanitization services for your home or business, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the different options available. At Pro Housekeepers, we know a thing or two about effective cleaning, and we’re here to demystify the industrial and commercial disinfection market and help you decide which disinfection choice is best for your business.
Decontamination vs disinfection
Decontamination and disinfection are two terms that are frequently used in the same context, but they do have slightly different meanings which in some settings, such as in labs or other sterile environments, can have significant consequences.
Decontamination refers to the process of making all materials in an area safe for use by reducing microbial contaminants. When a space such as a hospital room or veterinary clinic is decontaminated, the next user can enter without risk of infection.
Disinfection involves removing almost all pathogenic organisms from surfaces, typically with chemical solutions. Disinfection is a method of decontamination, but there are others, such as sterilization (eradicating all microorganisms and viruses, usually with heat or gas) and antisepsis (applying antimicrobial solutions to the skin or living tissue).
In this post, we’ll review the most common types of disinfection, from residential disinfection services to industrial foggers and UVC lights. Finding the right kind of disinfection method will depend on several factors, including the underlying need for disinfection, the microbial contaminants to be removed, and the surface materials involved.
The type of disinfection we are most familiar with is that we undertake at home using ordinary household cleaners. For most purposes, regularly wiping down surfaces such as faucets, countertops, and door handles is more than sufficient to provide a safe atmosphere and reduce the risk of illness or infection.
Disinfection is the act of killing pathogens (usually chemically), and is separate to cleaning, which involves the removal of dirt and germs. We clean our homes by vacuuming the carpet, sweeping the floor, and polishing tables. Disinfection is the act of applying antimicrobial solutions such as bleach or ammonia-based products made by brands like Clorox and Lysol, and is usually reserved for nonporous, high-risk surfaces such as those in kitchens and bathrooms.
For many commercial premises, chemical disinfection using household products is perfectly adequate. Office desks, computers, switchplates and handles, can all be disinfected to safe levels in this way. However some workplaces, such as factories, labs, and commercial kitchens, may find more specialized disinfection methods are more appropriate and effective for their needs.
Electrostatic disinfection (electrostatic sprayers)
Electrostatic sprayers provide an efficient method of distributing an even coating of disinfectant solution across a wide area, and are therefore considered a better method of dispensing disinfectant solutions than manual applications. Electrostatic sprayers work by charging the droplets of disinfectant as they leave the sprayer so that they repel each other. This means when the disinfectant solution is dispensed, rather than some areas becoming saturated and others being missed, the particles form a thin, even layer across a wider area.
Where can electrostatic disinfection be used?
- Public bathrooms
- Locker rooms
- Medical offices and facilities
- Assisted living facilities
- …and more!
Many electrostatic sprayers create positively charged particles, making them even more effective than entry-level sprayers, because the majority of bacteria are negatively charged. The positive particles are attracted to negatively charged surfaces, which can help distribute the disinfectant solution across a wider area, including hard to reach places like the underside of desks and chairs, and inside cracks and crevices that would be overlooked with manual application or traditional sprayers.
Electrostatic distributors can make disinfecting your workplace faster and more effective, resulting in better coverage in less time. Because electrostatic sprayers distribute a very thin, even coating of disinfectant, they use less solution and there’s less chance of overspraying, making them more cost-effective compared with manual application cleaning methods.
PROS AND CONS OF ELECTROSTATIC DISINFECTION
Reduced waste—no overspraying
No long-term protective barrier
Environmentally friendly—less product used
Reduced effectivity on porous materials
Irritant cleaning chemicals
The downsides to electrostatic spraying are similar to household disinfectant applications: the solutions don’t work equally on all surfaces, and they can irritate the throat and lungs of people in the vicinity when they are used. Any area that is being disinfected should therefore always be well ventilated, cleaners should wear appropriate PPE, including face masks, and bear in mind that electrostatic spray disinfectants are most effective on nonporous surfaces such as worktops, desks, and chairs.
If you need your business premises to be regularly disinfected but struggle accessing every surface, electrostatic spraying might be the right solution for you. Check out Pro Housekeepers’ complete guide to electrostatic disinfection to learn more.
Ultraviolet light disinfection (UVC / far-UVC)
One of the major drawbacks to electrostatic spraying is its reliance on disinfectant solution, similar to traditional household cleaners. While effective, cleaning solutions can be harmful or irritating to people in the area where they’re used, which makes them unsuitable for some applications. For example some chemicals cannot be sprayed on areas that are used for food preparation or serving.
In order to overcome this, some businesses use ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect their premises. UV light has the advantage of being germicidal, without leaving any lingering smell or residue behind. It can also treat a large area in a very short time, making UV light an efficient and cost-effective way of disinfecting your workplace.
How does UV light disinfection work?
UV light falls on the electromagnetic spectrum between visible light and X-rays and is a form of electromagnetic radiation that disrupts the cells of microorganisms, neutralizing them. You can see the effects of UV light on human cells in the form of sunspots, wrinkles, and other characteristic signs of premature aging that we associate with exposure to sunlight, part of which contains UV rays. In fact, if you’ve ever put an item outside to air out or dry, you’ve already used UV light for cleaning.
There are three types of UV light, known as UVA, UVB, and UVC. The germicidal spectrum (where light rays vibrate at the right frequency to disrupt the cells of microbes) is 100-280 nanometers, and that means UVC is the only type of UV light that can be used for disinfection purposes. Therefore while you might hear about UV or UVC light cleaners, they both refer to the same thing.
THE UV LIGHT SPECTRUM
TYPE OF UV LIGHT
Not absorbed by ozone layer
Mostly absorbed by ozone layer
Completely absorbed by ozone layer
A final variation you may have heard of is far-UVC light. This light has a wavelength of 207-222nm and is found near the center of the UVC spectrum. This wavelength has been shown to be strongly absorbed by biological materials—so strongly, it cannot get past the outer layer of dead cells on our skin. That makes it harmless to humans, but particularly dangerous to microorganisms.
Far-UVC could be the solution to the main drawback of existing UV light treatments: that they are harmful to humans and cannot be employed when people are present. Further exploration of far-UVC could produce an emitter that provides a constant stream of UVC light, continuously disinfecting spaces such as operating rooms and dental offices in real time.
For now, UVC light is used to disinfect industrial and medical properties, and plays an especially critical role in combating drug-resistant infections. Because UV light destroys microorganisms using wavelengths, no germ can develop immunity.
Learn more about UV light and how it can help keep your workplace disinfected with the Pro Housekeepers comprehensive guide.
Fogger disinfection (thermal foggers, ULV foggers)
There are many different kinds of disinfectant foggers on the market, but they all work according to the same principle: a disinfectant is dispensed into a closed space until the air is saturated. Fogging can clean the air inside a room, as well as all the surfaces, but it’s typically used sparingly because of the disruptive and potentially harmful nature of fogging.
Types of disinfection fogging treatment
- Chemical fogging
- Chlorine dioxide
Chemical fogging involves aerosolizing a disinfectant solution and filling the room with vapor. Most chemical foggers are located in factories and other industrial settings, and are purpose built into the building, although portable chemical foggers are also available for one-time use. Chemical fogging is typically a last resort for most locations, because it requires the area to be cleared of people for the duration of the treatment, and usually several hours thereafter while the chemicals disperse.
Ozone fogging is preferable to chemical fogging in some situations because it doesn’t use any solutions that leave residue or can become irritants for people using the space after fogging is completed. Ozone is a highly unstable compound and so has to be created on location using a high-energy source such as a UV light. This method of fogging does require pretreatment in the form of humidifying the room, as well as airing the room once it has been disinfected. Because of its oxidative nature, ozone should not be used in areas with lots of corrodible metal surfaces, which makes it inappropriate for use in some commercial settings.
Chlorine dioxide is a popular disinfectant solution commonly used in fogging. Its appeal comes from the fact it breaks down into harmless salts, ensuring there is no dangerous or irritant residue left behind. However chlorine dioxide is typically made on location by combining sodium chlorite and chlorine gas, which have harmful effects if used incorrectly.
Ionization is the only method of fogging that can be carried out on a continual basis when people are around without risking their health. Similar to electrostatic disinfection, ionization works by charging ions in air that then seek out and neutralize harmful microorganisms.
Each method of fogging has advantages and disadvantages, and which is right for your premises will depend on the industry and location involved. For more about all kinds of fogging cleaners, check out our informative guide.
Air scrubber disinfection
If fogging seems too intensive for your needs, air scrubbers, purifiers, and negative air machines can be employed to disinfect large areas far less invasively.
Air scrubbers — are standalone units that pass air through filters before recirculating it into the room.
Air purifiers — are built into ductwork in your building and work by ionizing the air before filtering and recirculating. Sometimes air purifiers also create ozone using UV lights to further treat the air as it passes through.
Negative air machines — a negative air machine extracts air from a room using ductwork, creating a vacuum (“negative air”) that prevents contaminants from being easily spread.
Placing an air filter, or scrubber, in your home or office is a good way to improve air quality and makes for a healthier, lighter environment. Industrial scrubbers are also available and are often used in conjunction with construction work to mitigate dust, fumes, and other airborne particles that can otherwise spread all over a building.
While using air filters in general workplace environments is a good practice, they won’t be enough to completely disinfect a room on their own. As such, they should only be considered a secondary cleaning and sanitizing tool, and not the primary method of disinfection.
Vehicle disinfection services
Company vehicles are often overlooked when it comes to routine decontamination and sanitizing, but can be some of the most at-risk locations for picking up germs and pathogens. If your vehicles are used to transport the general public, clients, or patients, they should be routinely disinfected. Foggers are great for disinfecting vehicles because the small, enclosed space a vehicle represents can be quickly and easily fogged, and rapidly aired out afterward.
Disinfecting against COVID-19
Since the start of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, more and more companies have been looking for disinfection solutions that can protect their workforce from exposure to the virus. The good news is the virus itself is relatively easy to destroy, as it has a lipid envelope. Ordinary dish or hand soap is enough to break down the virus and destroy it because soap is designed to dissolve fats.
For home and workplaces, the EPA has produced List N, a list of approved disinfectants that have been shown in lab studies to work on either the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus itself, or on other viruses that are considered more robust and harder to kill. Many household cleaners appear on this list, including:
- Lysol Disinfectant Spray
- Lysol Disinfecting Wipes
- Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
- Clorox Germicidal Bleach
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Sodium hypochlorite (bleach)
Pro Tip: Want to know the difference between Clorox and Lysol? We’ve got it covered!
While most disinfecting services are effective against COVID-19 if properly applied, you should check the specific solution that cleaning and disinfecting services intend to use against List N for confirmation if your aim is to reduce the risk of contracting the virus on your premises. For more information, check out the Pro Housekeepers guide to killing the coronavirus with cleaning.
Disinfection service costs
A primary consideration when choosing a disinfection service is the cost. We all want competitive rates, but the final price of disinfecting your home or workplace will depend on the size and scale of the job, as well as the method used. Industrial disinfection solutions such as fogging are typically more costly than less invasive options, especially if they are one-off treatments.
Building an air purifier into your office HVAC system, or engaging a company to carry out routine electrostatic spraying will result in better value for money in the long term. However for industries that require specialized disinfecting services, such as medical labs and operating theatres, the most important consideration will be how effective the disinfection treatment is, and how soon the area can be reused once treatment has been completed.
Which disinfection service is right for you?
Before committing to a disinfection service for your premises, consider the following:
What pathogens are likely to be present? A research laboratory will have different sanitization requirements than a closed office. Consider realistically what microbes are likely to pose the biggest threat, and how best to counter them.
How long can the area be out of commission? If your company loses money every moment a room is empty, closing it off for the five or six hours that a fogging treatment will take could end up being prohibitively expensive. Find the best compromise between the treatment you require and the duration it will take to complete.
Is the chosen disinfection method practical? How often does it have to be repeated, and how will those treatments fit around your existing schedule? Consider if there are routine downtimes where cleaners can access the property and get to work.
Is the disinfectant safe to use? Some buildings and workplaces will find their use restricts the disinfection methods they use. Some solutions cannot be used on food prep surfaces, for example, and are therefore inappropriate for use in commercial kitchens. Others might be irritating or harmful if inhaled, and shouldn’t be used in assisted living or medical facilities where immunocompromised people could come into contact with them.
Finding the ideal cleaning solution for your needs can require some compromises to get right, but by understanding all the available options, you can make the most informed and appropriate choice for your business. For all your cleaning needs, Pro Housekeepers is there to provide expert support and service. Book your first appointment with a housekeeping Pro today.