What is the difference between cleaning and cleaning

The difference between cleaning and disinfection

Hygiene is now more important than ever. But what exactly is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? And what are the most efficient methods of washing and disinfecting hands? The hygiene specialists AF international know the answers.

Proper hand washing is important, but it is no substitute for disinfecting. Illustration: AF International

Cleaning and disinfecting are very similar, aren't they? Not correct. In fact, there are big differences. And since we are all becoming more hygiene-conscious at the moment, it is worth checking that you are actually using the right products for the right situation.

What is cleaning?

clean (transitive verb): "make clean to remove dirt, impurities or foreign matter"

That sounds pretty straightforward. Cleaning is the removal of dirt, grime, or grease from hands or surfaces. This process typically involves soap and warm water. For example, if you've spilled a carbonated drink on your hands, washing with soap and warm water can remove the sticky residue. However, it does not kill bacteria or other pathogens on the surface of your hands.

But doesn't soap kill bacteria and viruses? That's why we wash our hands with soap, right? Many advertisements and media reports urge us to wash our hands to protect ourselves in the current situation.

But that is not entirely correct and is a common misconception. Soap washes away bacteria and viruses from your hands, so it's best to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds - the more time you spend scrubbing, the more likely it is that the bacteria will be washed away. However, this does not kill bacteria and pathogens - they are simply washed onto another surface.

What is Disinfection?

disinfect (transitive verb): "to clean (a surface, a device, a water supply, etc.) by destroying or significantly reducing the concentration of pathogens (such as bacteria, viruses and fungi)"

While cleaning only removes layers of dirt from hands and surfaces and rinses away bacteria, disinfectants actually kill pathogens. This makes it an essential part of the cleaning routine.

Only disinfecting kills bacteria and viruses. Illustration: AF International

So why don't we all just use hand sanitizer instead of soap? Good quality hand disinfectants contain substances that disinfect well, but when a surface is dirty, disinfectants are far less effective. Because it has to fight its way through the dirt first.

Cleaning - that is, removing dirt and debris - prevents bacteria and viruses from becoming trapped under these layers of dirt. When these layers of dirt are removed, the bacteria and viruses are exposed to the full power of the disinfectant.

Tips from AF for cleaning and disinfecting hands

  1. Wash before disinfecting
    Washing removes dirt deposits so that the disinfectant can work on the surface and kill the pathogens.
  2. Always check the contact time of disinfectants and disinfecting hand gels
    If a disinfectant requires a certain application amount or exposure time, it is crucial that you adhere to this.
  3. Choose a hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60 percent
    The WHO recommends hand disinfectants with more than 60 percent alcohol. It has been proven that disinfectants with less than 60 percent alcohol content are much less likely to kill bacteria and viruses. Ideally, an antibacterial hand gel with an alcohol content of over 70 percent should be chosen.
  4. Pay attention to the European standards (EN) for disinfectants and hand disinfectant gel
    Pay attention to standards such as EN1500, EN1276, EN1650, EN14476: 2013 and A1: 2015.

A strong combination

Washing and disinfecting are crucial parts of an effective hygiene concept.
Always wash your hands with soap and warm water first to remove any layers of dirt. Then, disinfect your hands with a 70 percent alcohol product to kill all bacteria and fours. This combination of washing and disinfecting is most effective at killing pathogens.

What about cleaning and disinfecting surfaces?

It is not enough to keep your hands clean and disinfected when the surfaces around you harbor bacteria and viruses. With this in mind, the identification of surfaces with a high number of contact points is an important starting point. Think of doorknobs, banisters, printers, smartphones, and keyboards.

Surfaces that are touched often should be disinfected regularly. Illustration: AF International

All of these surfaces have the potential to become pathogenic breeding grounds. It is therefore imperative that they remain clean and disinfected at all times. By regularly wiping the contact points with the disinfecting Anti-bac + cleaning wipes for surfaces, you can make disinfection a permanent part of your routine.

Screens, however, require a special approach - especially touchscreens, which often have special coatings. Here we recommend the AF-Anti-bac + disinfectant wipes. They are alcohol-free and still kill up to 99.99 percent of all bacteria and viruses. Paper-based and fully recyclable, the wet wipes are ideal for all screens. Both products require only 30 seconds of contact time, which means that the surfaces only need to remain moist for 30 seconds for the antibacterial effect to take effect.