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Using Disinfectant in the Bathroom and Around the Home

Using Disinfectant in the Bathroom and Around the Home

Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a massive increase in the use of disinfectants. Government guidance has highlighted the importance of hand-washing and hygiene in homes, workplaces and public spaces. Hospitals, schools, factories, shops, transport, offices, hotels and restaurants are all required to adhere to a regular 'deep clean' in order to reduce the chances of Covid transmission.

Disinfectant is a key product that helps in the fight against Covid and also reduces the chances of infection from other viruses and bacteria. Essential Aids offer a wide range of disinfectant wipes that provide a convenient, cost effective, easy to store way to protect against germs and prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and virus particles.

High touch places such as bannisters, handles and toilet seats are particularly likely to be areas of infection transmission, due to the number of people who could potentially come into contact with these surfaces. Having a handy pack of disinfectant wipes in your home or bag is an easy way to alleviate any worry.

At home, disinfectant wipes are a very fast way of sanitizing an area quickly. Unlike traditional disinfectant, wipes don't have to be diluted in a bucket of heavy water - which is especially useful for those with limited mobility and strength.

There's also no worry about what to do with the cloth afterwards because wipes are easily disposed of in the bin. Many wipes nowadays are more environmentally friendly and will decompose over time.

It's important not to flush disinfectant wipes down the toilet, because they can block up the sewerage system and cause a great amount of inconvenience and expense for water companies (the cost of which is passed onto the consumer through higher prices).

Using antibacterial wipes in the bathroom is especially good for toilet handles and bath aids such as boards, shower stools, toilet seats and grab rails. The wipes can take a few minutes to work, but unlike soap and water it will kill germs, rather than reduce them. This then prevents cross-contamination which will give the elderly and vulnerable peace of mind. Bath aids which are used regularly and left to air-dry may benefit from regular wiping down.

Disinfectant wipes and personal wipes

It is important to highlight the difference between disinfectant wipes and personal wipes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has insured that all sanitizers and disinfectants are properly labelled with warnings to guard against people accidentally using these for personal care. In fact, most disinfectant wipes will have guidance on the packaging stating that gloves should be worn while using them or that your skin and hands should be washed immediately after use. Accidental use of disinfectant wipes as personal wipes is likely to cause an allergic reaction and rash, so care and attention needs to be made to separate the two different kinds of wipes.

Disinfectant wipes and sanitizing wipes

Sanitizing wipes or 'antibacterial' are the kind used on hands, body and face. But there are so many different products on the market that it is always worth taking the time to read the product label properly so that the user is confident about the purpose for which the wipes are intended.

For example, antibacterial hand wipes may not be suitable to use on more intimate areas of the body due to their ingredients. Rest assured there should always be guidance on the product description.

Antibacterial and Disinfectant wipes

Antibacterial is another word for sanitizing. They tend to reduce germs and cleanse hands and skin, whereas disinfectant wipes have harsher chemicals that are strong enough to dissolve the cell wall of most bacteria. In summary, disinfectant wipes are much more useful and effective than antibacterial wipes in destroying bacteria, fungi and viruses that can live on surfaces.

How to use wipes

This may seem obvious, but studies have shown that using wipes incorrectly may actually contribute to the spread of bacteria and harmful germs. A Cardiff University research team conducted surveillance on hospital staff and their use of antibacterial wipes to decontaminate surfaces.

Areas such as monitors, bed rails, tables and key pads were all swabbed prior to and after antibacterial wipes were used. The study found that when the antibacterial wipes were being applied to the same surface several times and then used on consecutive surfaces, these actions actually transferred bacteria rather than eliminated bacteria.

This suggests that each wipe should be used on one area of 1-2 square feet max and discarded straight away. Furthermore, the surface should then be left to dry (which takes approximately four minutes) before the surface is decontaminated.

Other studies have shown that disinfectant wipes can have almost twice the effectiveness as cloth and bucket methods of cleaning because a higher percentage of chemicals are reaching the surface without being diluted by water or absorbed by the cleaning cloth. As well as being less effective, the cleaning cloths can also be a source of contamination if they're left in a dirty bucket of cleaning solution.

Areas of use

Disinfectant wipes are only effective on certain surfaces. Areas such as upholstery or curtains, are definitely not suitable for use with disinfectant wipes because the alcohol can stain or fade fabrics.

Similarly, using wipes on untreated wood is also not advisable because untreated or unpainted wood is porous and disinfectant wipes could leave a noticeable stain.

You may think that leather car seats or a sofa may benefit from a quick wipe over with a disposable disinfectant wipe, but the alcohol in the wipes can make leather lose its natural oils and become brittle and dry.

Clothing spills should also not be cleaned with a disinfectant wipe, because the harsh chemicals may stain the fabric. Even an item like a dog bowl should be washed with soap and water because if your pet comes into direct contact with the chemicals in the wipes, they can be harmful to digest. If you do use the product for pet areas, allow to dry and then rinse with water afterwards.

The ideal areas for decontamination with disinfectant wipes are plastics, metals and treated wood. These are smooth, non porous surfaces that are easy and quick to sanitize effectively with a disinfectant wipe.

According to studies by the National Sanitation Foundation, there are specific areas in the home that contain the most bacteria and should be cleaned with a disinfectant wipe on a daily basis.

In the kitchen, cutting boards, Fridges (inside and out) and sinks and countertops are the most likely surfaces to be harbouring harmful bacteria. Other target areas in the kitchen which may be overlooked when cleaning are oven knobs, microwave and light switches.

In fact, all light switches throughout the home should be decontaminated along with door handles and stair rails. These surfaces are all touched multiple times a day by the occupants of the home and their guests and are perfect breeding grounds for harmful bacteria and viruses.

Other high-touch items that need regular disinfecting are remote controls and keyboards. One study by the University of Houston revealed that hotel remote controls contained the same amount of faecal bacteria as the hotel toilet.

The items we take outs with us also tend to be neglected when it comes to decontamination. Mobile phones, keys, wallets, lunch boxes and bags are all areas that need special attention when it comes to cleansing.

Because they're our personal items, perhaps we assume that they're cleaner than public areas, but, if you touch a handle on a bus and soon after reach for your mobile phone, the bacteria and germs have been transferred.

Disinfectant wipes don't have to be expensive. If bought in multipacks they can be much more cost effective. It's always important to remember to reseal the packet of wipes, otherwise the whole lot can dry out and render them all useless.

There is a concern about the environmental impact of using disposable disinfectant wipes. The Marine Conservation Society has seen a 400% increase in wet wipes found along our coastline which is a huge concern.

Nowadays manufacturers of wet wipes are encouraged to emphasise that these items are not flushable and must be disposed of in the general rubbish. In fact, there are numerous manufacturers who have responded to consumer demand and concern about wipes and are producing biodegradable wet wipes that are also free from microplastics.

How long these wipes take to break down in landfill is debatable and depends on the specific product. Some disinfectant wipe producers claim that their product takes only forty two days to biodegrade and use only plant based fiber. Certainly research into this area will continue, as our usage of disposable disinfectant wipes seems set to increase.

Disinfectant wipes are undoubtedly an easy, convenient and very effective way to tackle the spread of germs, whether they be viruses or bacteria. Living in the midst of a global pandemic has focussed everyone's mind on the importance of sanitation and hygiene in the fight to stop the spread of Covid 19.

Disinfectant wipes have an important role in managing to curb the spread of disease, but it's essential to know how to use them to prevent them causing cross-contamination of germs and irritation to skin. It's also important to understand which surfaces to use disinfectant wipes on for optimum effectiveness. Another consideration is to prioritise which surfaces are most likely to harbour germs and last but not least, how to responsibly dispose of them.

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Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1996 and is a well-respected professional in the field of rehabilitation equipment and living aids. She has worked in private practice and within the NHS, developing a broad experience with adults and children. Click here for Sally's registration with the Health and Care Professions Council. The HCPC regulates health, psychological and social work professionals in the UK.

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