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5 Important Considerations When Selecting a Disinfectant or Sanitizer

Sep 15, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed disinfection and sanitization to the forefront of public consciousness like never before, revealing also just how misunderstood these crucial infection prevention products are. As spiking COVID-19 cases coincide with the beginning of what is expected to be a rough flu season, public health experts are once again warning of a possible “twindemic.” Cleaning professionals may not be able to halt the threat of either virus altogether, but a renewed commitment to infection control best practices is certainly a vital step in the right direction—starting with careful selection of disinfectants and sanitizers.

Before jumping in to the 5 most important factors to consider when choosing a disinfectant or sanitizer, a common misconception needs to be dispelled: While disinfecting and sanitizing are both commonly employed strategies to protect public health, they are not the same.

  • Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Surface disinfectant products are subject to more rigorous EPA testing requirements and must clear a higher bar for effectiveness than surface sanitizers.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements, without necessarily eliminating them completely.

How does one know, first, which type of product to use and, second, which specific product within that type to choose? Read on!

1. Target germs

Sanitizers and disinfectants claim to kill organisms so both are regulated as pesticides by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In order to be classified as a sanitizer or a disinfectant, a product must meet specific testing requirements against certain bacteria, and their efficacy data must be reviewed by the EPA. Any claims made outside of those specific bacterial claims—such as other bactericidal claims, virucidal claims, and fungicidal claims—are considered additional and must also be supported by data and approved by the EPA.

Though widely held, the belief that sanitizers can only kill bacteria is incorrect; sanitizers and disinfectants can both carry kill claims against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. That said, due largely to differences in active ingredient concentration, disinfectants tend to have a wider range of kill claims than sanitizers so are preferred when the objective is stopping disease transmission.

When deciding between individual products, it’s best to consult each label to identify which best addresses your pathogens (and strains) of greatest concern, which is often informed by facility type and/or area. In a childcare setting, for example, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) may be of concern, or VRE in a healthcare environment, and Serratia may be a target in a facility’s restroom, while MRSA is a focus in their gym.

Because SARS-CoV-2 and influenza are high priorities throughout most facility types and areas, public health antimicrobial products with a wide range of claims against viruses are particularly suitable. Betco® infection prevention products that are EPA recommended for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 can be viewed here and here, and some of their more widely applicable kill claims—including influenza—are listed here. For a comprehensive document of all Betco disinfection claims, please click here to contact us.

2. Surface type

Disinfectants and sanitizers are suitable for use on most hard, non-porous surfaces, but extra caution must be taken when it comes to food-contact surfaces, or areas where food may be prepared, served, or stored. While disinfectants can be used on food-contact surfaces, they must be rinsed with potable water after the required dwell time. Sanitizers, on the other hand, are divided into both food-contact and non-food-contact categories, and most food-contact sanitizers have directions for use on food-contact surfaces WITHOUT rinsing (though the specific label should always be consulted), like Sanibet™ RTU and Symplicity™ Sanibet at proper dilution. As such, they are usually favored for food service settings.

When it comes to soft, porous surfaces, such as carpets, curtains, and upholstery, no product can make legal claims of disinfection. Though these surfaces cannot be disinfected, they can be sanitized, and there are both disinfectants (like Betco Triforce) and non-food-contact sanitizers that have soft surface sanitization claims. Appropriateness for use as a soft-surface sanitizer would of course be indicated on the product label.

Finally, label directions should always be consulted to determine if a certain disinfectant or sanitizer can be used on sensitive surfaces.

3. Intended application

It is crucial to consider whether a disinfectant or sanitizer is compatible with your intended application according to the label directions, and contact time or dwell time in particular cannot be overemphasized. In order for either of these product types to work as intended, the surface or object must remain wet for the entire length time that is listed on the label. If cleaning staff members are working under significant time constraints, a product that eliminates enough of your pathogens of concern in a shorter amount of time may be a better choice than a product that takes longer. Dwell times for Betco disinfectants against common pathogens are outlined here.

In a similar vein, the time needed to take additional steps before or after application may influence product choice, such as rinsing food-contact surfaces after use of a disinfectant. As another example, almost all sanitizers require pre-cleaning, but many “combination” disinfectant cleaners allow clean teams to cut pre-cleaning out except in cases of gross filth or heavy soil.

Other facets of application that must be evaluated revolve around product format. Are tools and training in place to ensure proper dilution of chemical concentrates? Is there adequate room in the supply closet to house enough bottles of ready-to-use (RTU) product? Additionally, except in the case of wipes, the compatibility of available equipment with a specific product should also be reviewed on the label.

4. Safety

Any sanitizer or disinfectant sold in the U.S. is approved by the EPA, and just as efficacy data is required for approval, so is data regarding safety. Included in this are recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE), which should be carefully considered during the product selection process. Not only should access to appropriate PPE be evaluated, but so also should ability and willingness of cleaning staff to adhere to more intensive requirements—such as a half respirator mask for electrostatic spraying of certain disinfectants.

The general safety of all EPA-approved products when used in accordance with directions is not to say though that all sanitizers and disinfectants are created equally in this regard. The EPA actually has a Design for the Environment (DfE) program by which qualifying antimicrobial pesticides (disinfectants, sanitizers) can demonstrate their elevated safety for human and environmental health. Betco’s GE Fight Bac™ RTU is one such disinfectant. The EPA states on their website that each product that bears the DfE logo:

  • is in the least-hazardous classes (i.e., III and IV) of EPA’s acute toxicity category hierarchy;
  • is unlikely to have carcinogenic or endocrine disruptor properties;
  • is unlikely to cause developmental, reproductive, mutagenic, or neurotoxicity issues;
  • does not require the use of Agency-mandated personal protective equipment;
  • has no unresolved or unreasonable adverse effects reported;

For food-contact sanitizers, NSF food service certification verifies that a product has been proven safe to use in food and beverage processing and food service establishments. NSF, a highly respected, independent third party, requires rigorous testing to ensure sanitizers, disinfectants, and other types of products comply with food safety schemes. Our NSF products are documented here.

5. Cost

Finally, as with any selection of any cleaning solution, cost is a factor. Concentrates dispensed via chemical management systems—such as Betco FastDraw®—can certainly help cut down on costs by providing a much lower "in-use cost" as compared to ready-to-use products. Other benefits include decreasing shipping weight, guaranteeing accurate dilution of cleaning chemicals, eliminating spills, and discouraging theft. 

In addition, purchasing the types of “combination” products mentioned above can lead to savings through reduced inventory and stocking levels:

 

If you need more help selecting a Betco disinfectant for any given application, head over to our Disinfectant Selector Guide on our Disinfection Solutions page. Answer a few simple questions like preferred format, primary application, and food-contact or soft-surface sanitization needs and the tool will pick the best product for you. For help building the framework and confidence needed to ensure healthy facilities during and beyond this crucial period, turn to our Enhanced Facility Disinfection Program. Combining evidence-based infection control strategies supported by agencies such as the CDC, EPA, and FDA with tactics to put the minds of facility leadership and occupants at ease, this 5-step program is the ultimate weapon against infectious diseases.

 

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