NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Cleaning for the Flu Season

Cleaning for the Flu Season


            We all know what clean looks like right?  Clean homes; clean workplaces, clean public buildings – we can easily pin point an area or location that is clean.  But just because something looks clean, it is really clean?  Especially with flu and cold season upon us?

            For decades, the American Cleaning Institute in the United States has been a leader in educating the public on the role of disinfecting and sanitizing in preventing the spread of illness-causing germs. You can’t see germs — like Salmonella, E. coli, or Influenza. But “pathogenic,” or disease-causing, germs can be alive and thriving on surfaces all around you — at home, at work and at school. And as we continue to hear words like “pandemic” more frequently in the news — the idea of disinfecting and sanitizing the surfaces we touch becomes even more top-of-mind.

            So, when a surface looks clean, does that mean it is probably germ-free, too? No, in fact, a big capital NO.    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disinfecting and cleaning are not the same. The tricky thing about germs is that you can’t see them. And while soap and hot water remove some germs from surfaces when you clean, they cannot kill all germs — in fact, they may even spread them around. To ensure that a surface is germ-free, use a disinfectant or sanitizing product. Be sure to follow the label directions, as many products need to “stand” on a surface for a period of time in order to kill germs.

            Where are the germs hiding?  In our homes, the kitchen and bathroom top the list of the germiest locations.  Some studies even show that bathrooms are cleaner than kitchens. Outside our homes, our desks at work are germ gatherers. You work at your desk, eat at it, and may even feel like you live at it — but if you’re like most people, cleaning it is likely the last thing on your mind.  Germ attractors at work include telephones, followed by water fountain handles, microwave door handles and computer keyboards.

            Hand washing is the first step to staying healthy, but there is more that can be done. Germs are spread by touching surfaces, so while you can’t — or shouldn’t — try to control every germ in your environment, it makes good sense to defend against the germs that can make you sick. Disinfectants and sanitizers come in many forms, and each has its own benefits. Read the label to see if the product you’re choosing is labeled as a disinfectant and/or sanitizer, and select the one that best suits your needs. Disinfectants and sanitizers are designed to kill bacteria, viruses and/or fungi on surfaces. For proven results and range of effectiveness, look for a product that has an EPA registration number.

            For surface cleaners, cleaner/disinfectants and cleaner/sanitizers, active ingredients are listed on product packaging.  Disinfecting and sanitizing active ingredients kill bacteria, viruses and/or fungi that cause odors, mold and/or illness. Some of the more frequently-used active ingredients are:

— Sodium hypochlorite

— Ethanol

— Pine oil

— Hydrogen peroxide

— Citric acid

— Quats (quaternary ammonium compounds

            Safety is another ingredient you’ll want to add to your cleaning tasks. Always read and follow instructions on all products before using.  Avoid contact with eyes. In case of eye contact, flush with water.  Keep products out of children’s reach during use and storage and keep products in their original, labeled containers. Never combine cleaners – you may end up with a surprise science experiment!

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