High-level vs. Low-level Disinfection: How Clean Is ‘Clean?’

People know that they should regularly clean homes and offices. However, you may not know how regularly this should occur. A thorough cleaning is recommended at least once a month using proper disinfectants. 

Avoiding the spread of germs and bacteria is of primary importance to keep everyone healthy. Most cleaning professionals have classified the process of disinfection into low-level and high-level disinfection. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has specific guidelines for properly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

Low-Level Disinfection: This process uses EPA-registered disinfectants that are effective against a limited range of microorganisms. This should be done at least weekly and more often if there is a lot of foot traffic or if someone in the home is ill.

High-Level Disinfection: This process uses EPA-registered disinfectants that are effective against a broad range of microorganisms. This should be done at least monthly and more often if there is a lot of foot traffic or if someone in the home is ill.

Regular Cleaning

For most people, once a surface looks spotless, it is clean. The solution has always been to wipe off dirt, stains, and dust, and then the place is clean. However, some invisible things to the naked eye, like germs and bacteria, can stay even if a site looks sparkling clean. Only the right level of disinfection will get rid of these pesky pathogens.

There are different surfaces in any given environment, including porous and non-porous surfaces. Porous surfaces have tiny holes or spaces that can trap bacteria and other contaminants, while non-porous surfaces do not have these same properties. It is generally easier to disinfect a non-porous surface since there are no nooks or crannies for germs to hide in.

The most common method of disinfection is through the use of chemicals. These can be in the form of sprays, wipes, or solutions applied to surfaces and left to dwell or sit for a specific amount of time. The contact time is usually around 10 minutes, which gives the chemicals enough time to kill any bacteria or other germs present.

Physical methods of disinfection, such as heat or ultraviolet (UV) light, are also sometimes used. These methods work by damaging the cell walls of bacteria and other microbes, causing them to die. However, chemical disinfection often uses physical methods for the most effective results.

It is important to note that there is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning removes dirt, dust, and other debris from surfaces, while disinfecting kills bacteria or other microbes. For this reason, it is essential to use both cleaning and disinfecting products in any given environment.

When choosing the proper disinfectant for a given surface or environment, there are various factors to consider. These include the type of surfaces present, the level of contamination present, and any specific needs or requirements that need to be met. Ultimately, the goal is to choose a product that will be most effective in killing any harmful bacteria or other microbes present while also being safe for humans and animals to be around.

High-level Disinfection

High-level disinfectants are often used in healthcare settings or low-risk facilities, wherein it is vital to kill bacteria that can cause infections like during a disease outbreak. These disinfectants are usually a concoction of bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or peracetic acid

Unfortunately, high-level disinfectants include more dangerous chemicals that can create toxic pollutants in the air and reduce indoor air quality. People who use these chemicals have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Despite the dangers, high-level disinfectants are still necessary for many settings to reduce the spread of infection. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution and each option comes with some risks. Therefore, it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of each before making a decision about which disinfectant to use.

Low-level Disinfection

Non-critical items that you can touch are cleaned with simple low-level disinfection, like Lysol. The disinfecting wipes you may have in your room and kitchen are a great example. Quats, or quaternary ammonium compounds, are often used as an ingredient in low-level disinfectants. They effectively kill fungi, amoebas, mold, microbes, and viruses. However, they’re not as effective against bacteria.

EPA-registered hospital disinfectants are used to clean surfaces and equipment in healthcare settings. These products are tested to ensure effectiveness against a broad range of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The EPA keeps a list of these products and their approved uses. Common hospital disinfectants include quats, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and phenolics.

You can use any of these cleaning products on non-critical surfaces and equipment. But remember always to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. This will help you avoid harming yourself or others and prevent damage to surfaces and equipment.

Indoor Air Quality

Even after the cleaning and the disinfecting process is done, your home is not necessarily safe and pathogen-free. One factor that you might forget is the indoor air quality. Whether high- or low-level, the disinfectants being used may still circulate contaminants or toxins in the air you breathe.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to eliminate the harmful particulates in the air. Calling a professional to clean your HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system is the best solution. Never do it yourself, or you might end up damaging the system or not removing the contaminants completely.

Regular HVAC servicing

Regular maintenance checks for your HVAC system should effectively keep it germ-free. However, during these checkups, technicians will be able to find any hidden leaks, which could allow mold and bacteria to grow. 

Although you can replace filters independently, these professionals can check whether they are operating perfectly. First, the parts of your HVAC system will be pulled apart and cleaned thoroughly. This will also help the technicians inspect each component thoroughly. Then, they make sure that the parts are all in optimal condition.

No matter what level of disinfection you do to your home or office, the pollutants from those disinfectants will still linger in the air that you breathe. The only solution is to make sure that your HVACs are operating efficiently. As long as your air quality is not safe, you can’t declare that your space is spotless.

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