Building Disinfection

Building Disinfection: Five Steps to a Safe Reopening

In Disinfecting, Environment, Industrial Facilities, Parks & Recreation, Rail & Mass Transit, Safety by Bob Vitale

As we seek to reopen after this business-altering pandemic, building disinfection is a hot topic. To ensure the continued safety of your employees, customers, visitors and travelers, here are five steps to consider as you choose a building disinfection protocol. (All information is drawn from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Center for Disease Control.)

Step 1: Determine what actually needs to be disinfected

First, you may not need to actually disinfect your buildings at all. Outdoor spaces and facilities that have not been used for at least seven days only require your normal cleaning routine with soap and water. 

If those conditions do not apply, you might still be able to get away with standard cleaning for surfaces that do not receive much touching. And if children interact with surfaces in your facility (such as a daycare or elementary school), you’ll want to be particularly careful about using any disinfectant, as many of the chemicals used can be harmful when swallowed. (For specifics on when and how to clean and disinfect in any childcare facility, reference the CDC’s guidelines here.)

Step 2: Pick the right building disinfection protocol for your situation

You’ll want to check that any building disinfection product you are considering is on the U.S. EPA’s List N – a list of products that have been approved for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

But, as there are a number of options to choose from, based on specific needs, you’ll need some further qualifying information. So consider what kind of surfaces you will be using it on. For example, if you will be using it around surfaces that are used for food prep, you will need to follow specific instructions on exactly which surfaces require sanitizing instead of disinfecting, because of the risk of infecting food with toxic chemicals.

Otherwise, are the surfaces you need to disinfect in your building porous (like carpet, rugs or seating) or hard and non-porous (e.g., glass, metal or plastic)? Many building disinfection products can only be used on the latter. To find products that can be used on porous material, use the search function on the EPA’s List N

Step 3: Pre-clean the surface to be disinfected (if necessary)

Following the product label on your chosen disinfectant is crucial to getting accurate results, safely. Some products require that the surface be cleaned in advance with soap and water. Others don’t, unless there is visible dirt or grime, in which case cleaning does need to occur. This is because visible dirt can block the chemicals in the disinfectant from coming in direct contact with the surface, thereby rendering it ineffective. 

Step 4: Follow the product label’s instruction exactly

In particular, every disinfectant product has a time listed on the label. The product must sit, and remain wet, on the surface for this amount of time to be effective. From there, in many cases, the product can air dry. (Once again, the label will tell you whether a post-wash is necessary.) 

This is a critical step, because if the disinfectant is wiped away before it has sat for the required time, it’s wasted. Most companies get this wrong. If, for instance, you buy spray bottles of a disinfectant product for $5-6 per applied gallon, but then your employees immediately wipe it off after application, they are literally wiping away $5-6 per gallon applied. Extend that to an entire office building or industrial site, and all of a sudden, you’ve thrown away a lot of money. (And if you were to use a simple Lysol disinfectant, at $8/12.5 oz. can, that cost goes up significantly.) Some building disinfectant programs offer a low-cost entry but then charge as much as $200/gallon applied. So make sure you follow this step so your surfaces are properly disinfected, and your investment pays off.

Another thing to understand about disinfectants is that they kill viruses, bacteria and fungi on contact, but once they are dry, they are no longer effective against new microbes that attach to the surface. So an effective schedule needs to involve building disinfection at least daily, if not multiple times a day. 

Warning: the reason that the EPA and CDC guidelines warn about only using disinfectants on frequently touched surfaces is that overuse of disinfectants can actually cause more harm than good. This is for two main reasons: first, once again, the chemicals used in these products are harmful to humans and/or harsh to surfaces and the environment. Second, some disinfectants can actually cause certain microbes to become resistant to them, making those bacteria, etc. harder to get rid of in the future. (Quaternary ammonium-based products are a good example for disinfectants that do this. See our recent article for the problems with quaternary ammonium and chlorine-based disinfectant products.)

So it’s a balance – you need to disinfect some surfaces often, to be effective, while still minimizing the use of disinfectants in buildings. (One way to partially get around this issue is to use a disinfectant product that, after reacting on the surface you apply it to, only leaves natural elements, like vinegar, behind.)

Step 5: Choose an application method that is suited to your site-specific needs

So you’ve decided which surfaces need to be regularly disinfected in your buildings, chosen a disinfectant product that is approved by the EPA and that is suited to your particular needs (and one that doesn’t leave behind a toxic residue after application, like quaternary ammonium- and chlorine-based products), done any necessary pre-cleaning and know exactly how to apply the product based on the label. 

The final step is deciding how you will actually apply the disinfectant in your building. This topic is more about your productivity, which isn’t covered by the EPA and CDC like many of the other steps above. However, it’s just as important. If you are disinfecting daily (or even more often), enabling your people to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible makes a big difference. 

On that note, you want an application system that is sized to your site. For example, small offices or locker rooms only require a small sprayer, but larger industrial sites will want something bigger to speed up the process. 

Additionally, a sprayer system specifically designed for sanitizing, disinfecting and deodorizing buildings will offer many advantages over a sprayer that is repurposed from some other task. This is because a more even, consistent distribution can be established. Inconsistent application can leave uncovered spots, where viral particles may remain.

Finally, an application system that includes an injection pump allows for hassle-free, accurate dispensing in buildings. 

All of these factors will ensure your educational, institutional or industrial facility, agricultural/animal care equipment, office or transit space will be disinfected as thoroughly and efficiently as possible.

The Midwest Advantage

Midwest, the leader in dust control and road stabilization technologies, has stepped up to help our clients during this season of reopening by doing the initial work for you: we’ve put together a comprehensive building disinfection system that will help you in the most hassle-free way possible. 

For facilities with hard, non-porous surfaces that need to be regularly cleaned and disinfected, Midwest’s Disinfecting System goes beyond just providing you with a product; in traditional Midwest fashion, we’ve put together an entire program to get the job done and get the results you expect.

Sources: Full EPA Guide to Cleaning and Disinfecting6 Steps for Safe and Effective Disinfectant UseEPA Disinfecting Guide Infographic

Bob is founder and CEO of Midwest Industrial Supply.