Types of Sanitizer Solutions
Cleaning and sanitizing, whether it is your home or work, it is part of everyday life for most of us, and important in controlling the spread of germs in an area (learn the difference between cleaning and sanitizing). You want to be sure to use the right cleaning products and sanitizing solutions.
Where you are cleaning will have an effect on the types of sanitizer solutions you can and should use. Hospitals and medical facilities will use different products to restaurants and commercial kitchens and these are probably different from the sanitizer solutions you will use in your homes.
Household Solutions that can be Used for Sanitizing
There are many solutions you can buy to use to sanitize your home including:
- Alcohol (70% is best).
- Household Bleach (diluted 1 part bleach to 10 parts water).
- Hydrogen Peroxide.
- Quaternary Ammonium based sanitizers used according to manufacturer instructions.
- Iodine (Iodophors) at a concentration of 12-25ppm.
In order to be both safe and effective each of these solutions should be used in a different way and some are more suitable for different applications than others.
It is important to remember that cleaning is not the same as sanitizing and surface dirt should be removed first. Soap and water will be effective for most surfaces.
Alcohol at 70%-90%
Alcohol at a concentration of 70%-90% (so not vodka or other spirits you might have in the cupboard) is an effective sanitizer as it is bactericidal, tuberculocidal, fungicidal, and virucidal. It’s what you find in hand sanitizers and is considered to be effective against a wide range of microorganisms that can linger on the skin.
Alcohol wipes are also a popular choice for disinfecting surfaces in particular keyboards, phones, and other electronic devices that don’t appreciate getting wet. Alcohol can also be used for cleaning door knobs and other surfaces. Just make sure you allow surfaces to air dry to ensure sufficient contact time.
Ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are both readily available and effective enough to be used in healthcare settings.
Warning: Do not mix alcohol with bleach.
Mixing alcohol and bleach creates chloroform, the inhalation of which can cause serious health issues.
Alcohol is also highly flammable so should never be used near naked flames, and you should always keep an area well ventilated when you are cleaning with rubbing alcohol.
Chlorine and Chlorine Compounds – Household Bleach
Household bleach is an effective sanitizer and disinfectant against many micro-organisms including almost all infectious diseases. The only problem is that it can damage surfaces.
In order to be effective bleach needs to stay on surfaces for at least 10 minutes and should be mixed with cold water as hot water will render it ineffective. The active component in bleach also decomposes over time so dilute a fresh batch of bleach each time you need to use and discard after 24 hours.
Warning: Bleach releases toxic chlorine gas when mixed with ammonia or acid.
Bleach should not be mixed with anything other than water, and to protect your skin you should always use gloves when cleaning with bleach.
Hydrogen peroxide is a great solution for cleaning your home. Its chemical composition is H2O2 and it breaks down harmlessly into oxygen and water making it a useful non-toxic alternative to bleach. At 3-6% solution hydrogen peroxide is effective at killing bacteria, viruses and fungi.
If you buy a 3% solution you can pour it into a spray bottle and use it directly on hard surfaces including countertops, sinks, bathroom surfaces, doorknobs and trash cans. Simply spray on and leave for 5 minutes before wiping off.
Hydrogen peroxide can also be used to disinfect and brighten fabric, although it does have a bleaching effect so should be used with caution.
Warning: Hydrogen Peroxide should not be mixed with bleach or acids such as vinegar.
Quaternary Ammonium Based Sanitizers
These are usually available as ready-made solutions and are fast-acting. Just make sure you use them according to the instructions and ensure adequate contact time.
Iodine is a broad spectrum disinfectant that can be used to clean wounds as well as surfaces. Iodine tincture is often found in survival kits to be used on wounds and in water.
Iodine is also great for sanitizing the surfaces of fruits and vegetables.
Heat is effective at killing most germs and you are probably already sanitizing with heat without even realising it. Using your dishwasher at a high temperature will sanitize your dishes and putting your towels and sheets on a hot wash will sanitize them as well.
Hospital Grade Sanitizers
Hospitals use high-grade sterilants and disinfectants to prevent infections and stop the spread of infectious diseases.
Even in a hospital environment different products offer different levels of effectiveness against contagions and are suitable for different applications.
Cleaners and Detergents
There are guidelines in hospitals to determine whether an area needs to be cleaned, sanitized, disinfected or sterilized. In many areas such as corridors and waiting areas cleaning with a good detergent would be considered sufficient unless there are special circumstances that would indicate otherwise such as a bodily fluid spill.
Cleaners or detergents don’t make any claims to kill bacteria, fungi or viruses but are effective at removing dirt and this will include many pathogens.
Sterilizers, Disinfectants and Sanitizers
Even products that are designed to kill micro-organisms vary in their levels of effectiveness.
Sanitizers are designed to reduce the number of microorganisms to levels that are considered safe, but may not completely eliminate them. Sanitizers may also vary depending on whether they are designed to be used in food or non-food areas.
Disinfectants are designed to kill all microorganisms although even a disinfectant may not kill all spores. Hospital-grade disinfectants have to meet requirements defined by the EPA and registered for use in hospitals and other medical facilities.
Hospital grade sanitizers or disinfectants may have the same active ingredients as ones you can use at home. Hospital disinfectants may include:
- Quaternary Ammonium – Low level
- Phenols – Low level
- 70-90% Alcohol – Intermediate Level
- Chlorine and Chlorine Compounds
- Hydrogen Peroxide – High level
- Peracetic Acid – High level
- Formaldehyde – High level
- And Ortho-Phthalaldehyde (OPA) – High level
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