Cleaning chemicals make no claim of killing germs, but properly diluted and applied chemistry reduces their numbers to a safe level. On the other hand, disinfectants do not clean dirty surfaces. Here are three common questions about the chemicals used in healthcare facilities, along with my responses.
Q: What are the potential problems with failing to understand the proper use of various cleaning solutions?
A: In the case of disinfectants, failure to understand and follow labeled instructions is a violation of federal law, although I am not aware of any civil fines for violations. I’ve witnessed environmental services (EVS) technicians adding room deodorizer to disinfectants used to mop floors because the disinfectant did not leave behind a pleasant odor when they finished. That is a violation of the labeled instructions.
If disinfectants are over-diluted — for example, a water:chemical concentrate ratio that is too high — the desired disinfection might be altered to the point that weakened pathogenic organisms can become disinfectant-resistant, just as they have become antibiotic-resistant. The converse of that situation is when disinfectants of cleaning chemicals are under-diluted — for example, a chemical concentrate:water ratio that is too high — and they destroy or damage computer monitor screens and metal fixtures, make plastics brittle, and alter wood finishes.
Q: What are the most common mistakes cleaners make when labeling, storing or handling cleaning chemicals and disinfectants?
A: If disinfectants and cleaning solutions are not automatically mixed by a dilution control dispensing system, very few frontline workers or their managers know what a 1:32, 1:64 or 1:128 in-use solution is.
Let’s say the cleaning staff understands those dilution ratios and have a measuring cup or a 1-ounce pump on the gallon jug of concentrated chemical, and let’s say they have a bucket or pail they are using that is clearly marked with 1-gallon increments.
In my career spanning 34 years managing an EVS department, I have encountered employees who believe, “If 1 ounce per gallon is good, 2 ounces per gallon will be twice as good.” Flooring techs stripping floor finish rarely follow dilution control. Those that do not follow the manufacturer’s label believe that their task would be quicker if they just added more stripping chemical to the mop solution.
Both scenarios put frontline workers at risk of occupational exposure to cleaning chemicals, strippers and disinfectants, and they damage surfaces while adding unnecessary costs to the chemical budget.
Q: What are the most dangerous mistakes people make when labeling, storing or handling cleaning chemicals and disinfectants?
A: Here’s a problem I have experienced: We were purchasing a 6.25 percent bleach solution as a sporicidal in disinfecting C-diff isolation rooms and equipment. In my managerial rounds, I noticed gallon jugs of the bleach with expired dates. I removed them from the housekeeping closet and went to get replacements from our central storeroom. When I looked at the dates on the bleach jugs, I found unopened containers that were OK for expiration dates. But at the back of the shelf, I found bleach that had expired. I had to write a management plan to insure the jan/san supplier sent us product that was fresh, with an expiration date stamped on the cardboard box. When the department received it, we rotated the bleach on the shelves so we did not risk using expired disinfectant. The lesson is to pay attention to expiration dates on chemicals and disinfectants.
J. Darrel Hicks, BA, MESRE, CHESP, Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention, is the past president of the Healthcare Surfaces Institute. Hicks is nationally recognized as a subject matter expert in infection prevention and control as it relates to cleaning. He is the owner and principal of Safe, Clean and Disinfected. His enterprise specializes in B2B consulting, webinar presentations, seminars and facility consulting services related to cleaning and disinfection. He can be reached at email@example.com, or learn more at www.darrelhicks.com.