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Common Disinfection Mistakes

I’ve been sick for 10+ days with my second major respiratory virus this winter. It reminded me that I’ve been wanting to share this cleaning advice for months. I wrote a big project in 2016 about disinfection in veterinary hospitals. I learned that I’ve been cleaning WRONG my whole life. Here are some common disinfection mistakes – whether you’re cleaning for the people in your life, the pets in your life, or both.

common disinfection mistakes

First, let’s start with some basic cleaning tips:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting are not necessarily the same thing. Some disinfectants to have cleaners in them, but some do not.
  • Clean to remove any visible soil first. (This is important because some disinfectants do NOT work if they come in contact with gunk.)
  • Always clean from the cleanest item or area in each space to the dirtiest so that you’re less likely to spread germs.
  • Once things look clean, then go back and disinfect surfaces.

Common Disinfection Mistake #1: Spraying a surface and then wiping it with a dry cloth.

“Contact times” for disinfectants mean how long the surface stays wet with disinfecting solution. If you wet down a surface via spray bottle, then immediately wipe the surface dry, it defeats the point.

Spray bottles also increase the risk of germs getting blasted onto another surface.

It’s better to spray the disinfectant onto the cloth to wet it down. Then use physical friction to apply it to whatever you are cleaning.

This helps pick up any soil or debris microbes that you cannot see. It also results in a more even distribution of the disinfectant solution onto the surface rather than random splatters from the spray bottle. When it then air dries, you have a better chance of achieving the required contact time.

Common Disinfection Mistake #2: Not leaving the surface wet long enough (so-called “contact time”).

In other words, the surface being disinfected does not stay wet with the right level of diluted disinfectant for the full length of time required. With some products and some germs, the contact time can be 10 minutes or more. This information is hard to find for many consumer products.

For normal household cleaning, 1-3 minutes should work fine.

If you are really concerned with killing germs, it may be best to use a pre-moistened disinfection product (like a wipe) or a pre-mixed disinfection spray that’s designed to evaporate slowly enough to meet the contact time.

As an example, the Norovirus that often plagues cruise ships? Much like parvovirus in dogs, it’s really hard to kill on surfaces. With some disinfectants, it needs as much as 30 minutes of contact time, which is insane and not practical.

Common Disinfection Mistake #3: Not measuring disinfectant or cleaner for precise dilution.

It’s common not to use enough disinfectant when you mix it with water, which makes it too weak to work properly. The product’s label should tell you the correct ratios to mix.

Common Disinfection Mistake #4: Not knowing the shelf-life of the disinfectant being used.

In addition to knowing the shelf-life of the concentrated disinfectant, it’s important to know how long the disinfectant, once diluted, will continue to work properly. The diluted shelf-life for some disinfectants may only be 24 hours, and others up to 90 days, so be sure you’re not wasting disinfectant or using expired product by mixing up too much at once.

Look for expiration or Best If Used By dates on the original bottle to know how long the concentrated disinfectant or a premixed one lasts (often a year or more). It’s harder to find out how long a diluted product might continue to work. For that reason, it’s best to mix a fresh batch each time you clean.

Common Disinfection Mistake #5: Topping off diluted disinfectant bottles, rather than starting each time with a cleaned bottle and fresh batch.

Making this mistake means you’ve just mixed old disinfectant with new. This can lead to an overdiluted or inactivated mixture. In other words, it won’t work as well.

Common Disinfection Mistake #6: Mixing cleaning chemicals.

In addition to the potential for dangerous interactions, there’s a chance that adding one chemical to another will make the disinfectant not work properly.

For example, if you add a scented product to your disinfectant simply because you like the smell better, there’s a chance the chemical mixture won’t be as potent as it needs to be.

I’m guilty of all these mistakes. How about you?

Oh, and here is a bonus photo of the puppy-girls after recent baths.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.