Is Your Facility Clean Enough? Low-Level vs. High-Level Disinfection

In any work area, germs can spread quickly from one person to the next without proper disinfection or sanitation. Individuals in different industries, such as the health care industry, are more prone to germs and getting sick in the workplace. Regularly wiping down surfaces is important, but thoroughly disinfecting is essential to prevent stubborn germs from spreading. 

Continue reading to learn about the various levels of disinfection, sterilization procedures and the importance of keeping a clean facility.

The Three Levels of Disinfection

There are three different levels of disinfectants, each with multiple types and unique features. Specific disinfectants should be used in various settings. One single disinfectant isn’t one-size-fits-all. Learn more about the levels of disinfections below and how they’re applied for infection control.

Low-Level Disinfection

Low-Level Disinfection

Low-level disinfection is enough to clean areas that aren’t critical but come into contact with the skin. These can be devices or tools shared among staff members or surfaces, such as countertops, that see heavy traffic. Different methods for this level of disinfection include:

  • 1:500 bleach solution: When mixing one part bleach with 500 parts water, you’ll have to mix daily to ensure it maintains its disinfecting strength. You’ll also want to clean the area before applying the solution to ensure everything is properly disinfected. The benefit of this solution is that it’s inexpensive and works quickly. However, it can also corrode metal, must be made daily and can ruin adhesive that’s soaked in the solution. 
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide: Using 3% hydrogen peroxide can effectively disinfect non-critical areas and is considered environmentally friendly. However, it can destroy certain metals, such as silver, copper and brass. Like a bleach solution, 3% hydrogen peroxide can also ruin adhesives after soaking.
  • Phenols: Phenolic solutions can also be suited for low-level disinfection, and you can also use them for general cleaning. Phenols are simple to obtain but can cause skin irritation even if you wash the affected area. They’re also only meant for environmental surfaces. 
  • Quaternary ammonium: Quaternary ammonium is similar to phenols in that it is suitable for cleaning environmental surfaces. You can’t use this cleaning solution on instruments, which may not suit most medical industry needs. It’s also not a good antiseptic.

There are numerous options for low-level disinfectants, and each has unique applications. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each when choosing which you want to use in your facility.

In most cases, low-level disinfection can kill some bacteria, viruses or fungi but isn’t adequate for locations exposed to numerous pathogens daily. For example, a hospital room needs more than just low-level cleaning to remove all potentially infectious viruses or bacteria. 

Low-level disinfection works best on items that individuals come into contact with but don’t touch mucous membranes or open wounds. For example, low-level disinfectants would work well on hallways floors where skin doesn’t often come into contact with the surface. Items that people don’t usually touch can also use low-level disinfection. Low-level disinfection is typically used in routine household cleaning but can also be used in certain areas in the medical field.

Intermediate-Level Disinfection

Intermediate-Level Disinfection

Intermediate-level disinfection helps clean semi-critical items and can kill most viruses, bacteria and fungi. These items may come into contact with open skin or mucous membranes but not items that penetrate the skin. The different methods of intermediate-level disinfection:

  • 1:50 bleach solution: Mixing one part bleach and 50 parts water increases the strength of the bleach and turns it into an intermediate-level disinfectant. Like the low-level solution, you must also make the solution daily. It’s also a good idea to clean the area before applying the disinfectant. Some of the benefits of a water and bleach solution include its fast-acting nature and affordability. Some drawbacks are that it can corrode metal, ruin adhesives and must be mixed daily to maintain its strength.
  • 70%-90% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol: While 90% alcohol can effectively disinfect specific surfaces, 99% alcohol isn’t recommended since it can evaporate quickly, meaning it won’t have enough time to kill all bacteria and viruses. Using between 70% to 90% is the best way to ensure bacteria and viruses are properly eliminated. These solutions act quickly and leave no residue that you need to clean. However, alcohol can damage plastics and rubbers. It can also be flammable and cause damage to plastic and rubber materials. 

In the medical field, intermediate-level disinfection can clean scrubs or other clothing items that come into contact with people and infectious pathogens. Contact surfaces should also be cleaned using intermediate-level disinfection between patients to prevent contagious pathogens from spreading to other patients and staff. Disinfecting countertops or beds in patient rooms of a primary care clinic would be an excellent use of intermediate disinfectants.

High-Level Disinfection

High-Level Disinfection

High-level disinfection can kill all infectious pathogens, bacteria, viruses and fungi. However, these disinfectants can’t kill bacterial spores. You should use high-level disinfectants on semi-critical and non-critical items that come into contact with broken skin, wounds and mucous membranes. Some of the different methods for high-level disinfection include:

  • 1:10 chlorine bleach solution: One part bleach and 10 parts water is a strong solution that works as a high-level disinfectant. Like the other bleach and water solutions, it must be mixed daily to preserve its strength. You must mark the container or bottle when using a solution of this strength. The power of bleach can also be extremely corrosive to many metals.
  • 6% hydrogen peroxide: A 6% hydrogen peroxide solution can kill all infectious pathogens, and it’s considered environmentally friendly. It’s also noncorrosive. However, oxidation can cause damage to equipment containing different materials, including brass, nickel, zinc or copper.
  • 7% stabilized hydrogen peroxide: This hydrogen peroxide solution can also be an effective high-level disinfectant that kills all infectious pathogens except bacterial spores. Like the 6% solution, it’s also environmentally friendly. It also has the added benefit of not irritating the skin or respiratory tract as a residue. However, it can be strong enough to oxidize the materials 6% hydrogen peroxide can. 
  • 2% glutaraldehyde: This high-level disinfectant isn’t recommended for personal service situations, but it can be effective in other instances. One of the benefits of this solution is that it doesn’t corrode plastics, rubbers or metals. It’s also reusable, unlike other solutions. However, the fumes can be toxic, and this is generally an expensive disinfectant. 

High-level disinfectants tend to be more dangerous than other levels, so when using these cleaning products, it’s essential to wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent an injury. While there are dangers to using high-level disinfectants, they are necessary to ensure that infections don’t spread among patients. Each option has its benefits and risks, which you can weigh against each other to determine the best choice for your facility. 

High-level disinfectants should be used on reusable medical tools, such as stethoscopes. These disinfectants should also clean areas with the highest traffic, surface contact and risk for infection, such as bathrooms or beds in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Sterilization Procedures

Proper disinfection procedures are as critical as the disinfection level. When selecting a product, users should look closely at the manufacturer’s label. There should be instructions for use and whether or not any PPE is necessary to keep you and your employees safe. The contact time on the product’s label refers to how long you’ll need to keep the surface wet with the disinfectant to ensure it can do its job. 

When using disinfectants, it’s important to:

  • Check the product’s label to see if PPE is necessary for handling
  • Use no more than the recommended amount
  • Open windows or doors for adequate ventilation while using the products
  • Use room-temperature water when diluting
  • Label any product that’s been diluted to keep other staff members informed
  • Don’t mix chemicals unless instructed by the manufacturer, but use caution
  • Avoid direct contact with the skin, especially with high-level disinfectants
  • Store disinfectants in a safe place that’s out of reach from young children

Now that you know how to handle disinfectant products safely, you’ll want to follow the proper procedures to ensure that each area is properly disinfected. Follow these steps for disinfectants and sterilization to keep your facility cleaned and as free from infection as possible:

  1. Gather the necessary equipment: Before you can start cleaning, you’ll need all the essential tools, which are dependent on what you’re disinfecting. You may need an apron, a mop, signs and cleaning cloths.
  2. Put on any required PPE: Some disinfectants can harm the skin with direct contact, so you’ll need to wear gloves and other PPE. You may also need to wear a mask if there are any fumes. The manufacturer’s label will help you determine what you’ll need to handle the product safely.
  3. Prepare your solutions: Use a container such as a bucket to prepare your disinfectants. Some disinfectants require dilution, while others you can use as-is. Remember not to mix chemicals, as they can cause dangerous interactions.
  4. Ventilate the room: Chemicals can create a strong smell, and the fumes can harm your health. You can prevent this by opening a window or door to allow for proper airflow throughout the room as you disinfect. 
  5. Follow manufacturer’s instructions: The manufacturer’s label will tell you how to use the specific product to disinfect the surface properly. You’ll want to pay attention to the contact time, which tells you how long to keep the surface area wet with the product for complete disinfection.
  6. Rinse specific solutions: Some solutions, such as those containing chlorine, will need to be rinsed with water to prevent damage to different items, like stainless steel. The product label should tell you if rinsing is required.
  7. Change PPE: If you’re cleaning multiple areas one after the other, you’ll want to change PPE each time you go to a new location.
  8. Wash hands: After handling disinfectants, wash your hands to ensure the product doesn’t linger on your skin and cause irritation.

When You Should Clean and Disinfect and How

In the health care industry, you should be cleaning and disinfecting regularly. Patients can carry infectious illnesses, even if they don’t realize they’re sick, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some areas need to be cleaned and disinfected more than others, and those areas include:

  • Areas with high traffic and a large number of individuals, such as waiting rooms or bathrooms
  • Areas with poor ventilation that can trap airborne illnesses
  • Areas with a lack of access to hand sanitizer or soap
  • Areas that often have individuals with an increased risk for COVID-19 or other infectious conditions, such as hospital rooms

Hospitals and medical facilities will need to clean and disinfect more than others to prevent the spread of disease and ensure their patient’s health. You can disinfect most efficiently if you create a plan and follow it closely each time you need to disinfect different areas in your facility. Follow the procedure below to learn how to disinfect your facility effectively:

  • Create a plan: Before starting, determine which areas need to be cleaned then disinfected and at what level. Consider your various surfaces and which ones come into contact with individuals most often. For example, you may use low-level disinfectants to clean hallways and intermediate disinfectants for scrubs. You should also use high-level disinfectants on reusable hospital equipment, as these come in contact with multiple individuals and could potentially spread diseases. Areas that are high-level will need to be disinfected more frequently than those that are low.
  • Take action: Once you know what areas you need to disinfect and what level of disinfectant you should use, start taking action to keep these areas free from infectious pathogens. You can help minimize the spread of illnesses by staying consistent with your disinfection plan. Ensure your staff understands the importance of regular cleaning and disinfection methods. 
  • Keep your staff protected: All staff should understand how to use the different levels of disinfectants and use the proper PPE gear when handling certain chemicals, especially high-level disinfectants. Before you start cleaning, you should read the label on any cleaning product to see if there are recommended safety procedures from the manufacturer. Once you or your staff has completed disinfection, wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds to ensure that all chemicals, pathogens and dirt are off your hands, even if you wore gloves.
  • Maintain regularity: Since regular disinfection is necessary for medical environments to ensure the safety of patients and staff, you’ll want to make your job more efficient. Use products registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure they can adequately disinfect the appropriate surface. Once you’ve established a routine, keep an eye on your employees to ensure they’re keeping up with disinfecting requirements.
Call in the Disinfection Experts at Corporate Clean Services

Call in the Disinfection Experts at Corporate Clean Services

Disinfecting is essential to prevent the spread of infectious pathogens. If your cleaning staff doesn’t have the time or resources to complete different levels of disinfection, Corporate Clean Services can help with our total disinfection services, which use the Clorox Total 360 system. We’re experts at disinfection and can work around your schedule. That way, we don’t get in the way of your day-to-day operations. We can quickly and efficiently eliminate up to 99.9% of bacteria, keeping you, your staff and your patients safe from infection.

Our disinfection services can help save you time and money. Learn more about our services and our commitment to exceeding expectations, and get a free quote for our total building disinfection today!