From viruses to bacteria, our lives are filled with daily exposure to germs, which are linked to human health. Over the last few years surrounding the pandemic, the importance of employing effective and safe cleaning practices has surged to the forefront of the public’s mind. In indoor settings, touching objects or surfaces surrounding us is a daily part of life, including doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, phones, keyboards and more. Most microorganisms found in the indoor environment are inactive, dormant or dead, with little to no impact on human health. However, if these items are contaminated, they are called fomites. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, their role in disease transfer is higher than ever in human history.
Preventing the transmission of pathogens through disinfection must be carried out, not only in the high-risk sectors such as laboratories, operating rooms or food-handling settings but also for hygienic behavior in everyday life on all the surfaces that are frequently touched with hands. Keeping public spaces clean and sanitary can significantly improve the growth and quality of life in communities as well as reduce the risk for different chronic diseases. Knowledge of microorganisms, type of surface and the antimicrobial agent is fundamental to developing the best approach to sanitizing and disinfecting your workplace.
Common Microorganisms on Fomites
The primary goal of disinfecting procedures is the inactivation of organisms on fomites. Biological agents are widely found in the natural environment and, as a result, can be found either in many workplaces or households. The majority of these microorganisms are harmless, but some can cause disease. Therefore, the knowledge of these organisms and their survival is a crucial part of choosing the right antimicrobial agent and implementing effective methods:
- Bacteria are free-living cells that can live inside or outside of the body. Many bacteria help us, living in our gut, digesting and helping absorb our food, fixing nitrogen and decomposing organic materials in the soil. However, dangerous bacteria can cause infectious diseases and start major pandemics like the bubonic plague. It offers a short generation time allowing mutations to emerge and accumulate rapidly and quickly.
- Viruses are a non-living collection of molecules that need a host to survive. There are beneficial viruses in our gut, skin and blood that can kill undesirable bacteria and more dangerous viruses. Viruses can’t reproduce independently, so they aren’t considered living but can still survive on surfaces for varying levels of time. According to the University of Queensland, viruses that are enveloped with a layer of fat (such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19) can be more readily killed by simple handwashing because soap disrupts this fatty layer.
- Fungi are a large group of eukaryotic organisms, including yeast and molds. Some can live by decomposing dead organic matter, while others are a parasite of organisms.
An ideal disinfectant covers a broad spectrum, works in any environment and is non-toxic, non-irritating, non-corrosive and relatively inexpensive. Careful consideration of disinfectant characteristics is essential to selecting the most useful, effective and cost-efficient product. The Center for Food Security and Public Health recommends evaluating the following characteristics:
- Disinfectant concentration: The proper concentration of a disinfectant is important to achieve the best results for each situation. Some products will have different dilutions depending on the desired use of the product. While some disinfectants may be more effective at higher concentrations, these levels may be limited by the degree of risk to personnel, surfaces or equipment. Overdilution of a product may also render the disinfectant ineffective to the target microorganism.
- Application method: There are a variety of ways to apply disinfectants. Object surfaces or building walls may be treated by wiping, brushing, spraying or misting. Portable items should be soaked in a container of disinfectant. Fumigation may be used in some situations but is inefficient in buildings with ill-fitting doors and windows or damaged roofs.
- Contact time: Appropriate contact times are essential. Disinfectants may vary in the contact time needed to kill versus inactive microorganisms. Some chemicals may have residual activity, while others evaporate quickly. The minimum contact time required is typically stated on the product label.
- Stability and storage: Some disinfectants lose stability quickly after being prepared for use or when stored over long periods, especially in the presence of heat or light. In order to maximize stability and shelf life, products should be stored in a dark, cool location and preferably in stock concentrations. Disinfectant product labels will list the shelf life of the concentrated product.
- Instructions for use: The label of a disinfectant may include limitations of the product and must be followed carefully to ensure maximum effectiveness and protect personnel, the treated items and the environment.
- Safety precautions: Most disinfectants can irritate the eyes, skin or respiratory tract. Therefore, the safety of all personnel should be considered. Training on proper storage, mixing and application procedures are essential to keeping all personnel safe.
Environmental factors can significantly impact the effectiveness of a disinfection plan. The Center for Food Security and Public Health also recommends considering the following factors:
- Purpose of disinfection protocol: Initial assessment and the need for disinfection will be important in developing an effective protocol and disinfectant selection. Consider the overall goal of the protocol. Ineffective disinfection methods can lead to a false sense of security and further spread of disease.
- Organic load: Removal of all organic material before disinfecting is essential. The level of organic material (soil, bedding, litter, feed, manure, etc.) on an item or in areas to be disinfected can greatly impact the efficacy of a product or protocol.
- Surface topography: The type of surface to be disinfected can significantly impact the effectiveness of a disinfection plan. Porous, uneven, cracked or pitted surfaces, especially wooden surfaces and earthen floors, can hide microorganisms and are difficult to disinfect.
- Temperature: Most disinfectants generally work best at temperatures above 68 degrees. However, elevated temperatures may accelerate the evaporation of a disinfectant, which can reduce contact time and decrease efficacy.
- Relative humidity: Relative humidity can also influence the activity of some disinfectants. For example, formaldehyde fumigation requires a relative humidity of over 70% for effectiveness.
- Water hardness: The water source is also important when cleaning and diluting disinfectants. Water “hardness” can inactivate or reduce the effectiveness of certain disinfectants.
- pH: The activity of some disinfectants is also affected by pH. For example, the efficacy of glutaraldehyde is dependent on pH, working best at a pH greater than seven. In contrast, QACs have the highest efficacy at a pH of nine to 10. The pH can also affect the activity of phenolics, hypochlorite and iodine compounds.
- Presence of other chemicals: Other chemicals can affect the efficacy of some disinfectants. For example, iodine agents are inactivated by QACs, while phenols are commonly formulated with soaps to increase their penetrative ability.
- Health, safety and the environment: The health and safety of humans and animals should always be a primary consideration when selecting a disinfectant. Most disinfectants have some level of hazard associated with their use, while some pose a severe threat to human and animal health. Environmental factors, such as runoff into creeks or ponds, must also be considered when selecting a disinfectant. Many agents are known ecological hazards for plants and aquatic life.
Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl)
HOCl is a naturally occurring compound found in the human body that plays an integral part in the immune response. It is made from three simple ingredients: salt minerals, water and electricity. When white blood cells recognize a potential for illness, the body automatically creates HOCl on-demand to seek out these pathogens. It kills dangerous microorganisms as an antimicrobial solution making it equally as effective against bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Other commonly used disinfectant products use chemistries such as quaternary amines, peroxides or bleach. These chemistries are much more complex to manufacture and are typically produced on a large scale in chemical plants. Our eco-friendly line of HOCl-based surface cleaners and disinfectants are formulated with 100% natural ingredients, contain no harsh chemicals, alcohol, bleach or phosphates and are 99.9% effective against bacteria, viruses, spores and fungi. We offer several options based on your commercial or home cleaning needs:
Emerald Prairie Health is a purpose-driven company, committed to providing products that make for a cleaner and healthier world. We provide all-natural, non-toxic and environmentally friendly cleaning and disinfectant products that help protect against harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Our products are 99.99% effective with no fumes or chemical residues, allowing you to return to the office, classroom, business and your life in a clean and healthy environment.