Making the Right Picks for Plant Disinfectants

With COVID continuing to rage, here's a closer look at cleaning characteristics, new tech and leveraging one of a manufacturer's most underutilized resources.

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Recently, a young woman was hired to work at a distribution center. She knew a couple of people working there and asked them about the job. However, she did not ask about pay or if they liked working there. Her only question was, "Is it safe to work there?" 

 She wondered if this employer had taken steps to keep the staff healthy while in the grips of a pandemic.

This concern is certainly not uncommon. Most employers are doing everything they can to ensure their facilities are healthy, minimizing the risk of infection as much as possible. To do this, facility managers must learn as much as they can about disinfectants. This includes how to use them, what to look for on the product label, and which disinfection technologies are now taking center stage in the professional cleaning industry, such as electrostatic sprayers and ultraviolet (UV) light technology.

The Basics

A disinfectant is a substance or mixture of substances capable of killing or deactivating microbial pathogens. Before a surface can be disinfected, it must be cleaned. Cleaning removes soils so that the disinfectant can kill pathogens more effectively. It is a two-step process. Also note:

  • There are no green disinfectants in the U.S. The EPA does consider the impact of the disinfectant on the user and the environment. However, the effectiveness of the product is its primary concern.
  • Every disinfectant will have "kill claims" on the label. Kill claims refer to the pathogens the disinfectant is designed to kill.  Instead of using the term "kill claims," some manufacturers are now saying their products are engineered to "eliminate" or "deactivate" certain pathogens.
  • Once a disinfectant is applied to a surface, it must remain on that surface—and remain wet—for several minutes. This is known as contact time and will be noted on the product label. By the way, should the disinfectant dry on the surface, the area must be cleaned again and the disinfectant reapplied.
  • All disinfectants are designed to be mixed—diluted—with water. These ratios will also be noted on the product's label. Disinfectants should never be diluted manually. Instead, an auto dilution system should be used. This eliminates waste and, more importantly, ensures the disinfectant is mixed as intended and tested by the EPA.
  • Due to COVID-19, the EPA has evaluated disinfectants proven to be effective against coronavirus. They call this the N-List. If the virus is a concern in your facility, make sure the disinfectant you choose is on this list.

An astute janitorial distributor is invaluable when selecting any cleaning product, but especially a disinfectant. They can provide recommendations and explanations in quickly and accurately making product selections that help eliminate trial-and-error purchasing that can waste time and money, while leaving your facility vulnerable.

Antibacterial and Antimicrobial

In the process of selecting disinfectants, two terms often come up: antibacterial and antimicrobial. 

Many believe these terms mean the same and are interchangeable. They are similar, but they are not the same.

An antimicrobial can be compared to the general term “cars.” It is designed to kill many types of pathogens and microbes on a surface. They may also be referred to as "general disinfectants."

An antibacterial, on the other hand, is designed to kill or deactivate specific pathogens on a surface.  Another term for them is “limited disinfectants.” The needs for an antibacterial would depend on a variety of circumstances, including what products are being manufactured.

When purchasing any cleaning chemicals, the tendency is to focus on the "sticker price." This is rarely a good policy and does not reflect the true cost of a product like disinfectants. Instead, evaluate the dilution ratio. If one disinfectant requires less water and more product, that product will likely be more costly than one that requires more water and less product.

Related to this, some types of disinfectants, such as quaternary ammonium compound (quats), often do not need as much chemical to work effectively, making them more economical.

Another consideration relates to labor costs. A higher-quality disinfectant may be easier to apply, require less contact time, and be more effective than a less expensive—and lower quality—disinfectant. When it comes to cleaning, labor is often the costliest component, which would make selecting the highest-quality product the least costly in the long term.

UV Tech and Electrostatic Sprayers

While we may think they are new, UV technology has been in use in hospitals since 1878. These systems use light energy to pierce the cell walls of bacteria and viruses, killing and deactivating them. A recent story in USA Today indicated that these systems can kill 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria they come in contact with.

However, a limitation of these systems is that they only kill those pathogens they contact. There may be pathogens just a few inches away that are not deactivated. Further, the USA Today article reports, "it may take a couple of cycles to completely disinfect a room, depending on the room's size, the intensity of the light, and the time of exposure."1 

Eliminating some of these concerns are electrostatic sprayers. These systems mist large surface areas with a disinfectant. In the process, the disinfectant is given an electrical charge that causes it to attach and wrap around surfaces being misted. Effectiveness can vary, and how long the disinfectant remains active, referred to as its "residual activity," can differ as well.

Rarely has a knowledgeable distributor brought more value to the table than now. Manufacturers train distributors on the value of their products, how to use them, their features, and benefits. The result: nobody knows the practical applications of these products better than a distributor.


Michael Wilson is vice president of Marketing and Packaging for AFFLINK - a distributor membership organization that helps administrators select products that are cost-effective and drive efficiencies. 


1 "What is U.V. light, and can it kill the coronavirus on surfaces? Here's everything you need to know;" by Adriana Rodrigues; USA Today, Aug 4, 2020.
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