Cleaning wipes and disinfectants are more popular than ever. In 2008, the Soap and Detergent Association commissioned Echo Research to conduct a cleaning survey across the country. They found that 71 percent of Americans said they use some form of wipes. Of that percentage, 77 percent keep at least two containers in their homes at all times and over a quarter of those people said they whip out a wipe at least once per day.

By 2014, Clorox reported (via Environmental Working Group) that roughly half of American homes use their brand of disinfecting wipes.

Differences in cleaning and disinfecting

Homeowners need to be careful not to let the disguise of cleaning fool them into thinking things are disinfected. There is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting.

By definition, cleaning is the process of removing the soil from a surface. A soil can harbor germs such as E. Coli, Salmonella and Influenza. Disinfecting is the process of killing these germs. Cleaning removes the soil and dirt, while disinfecting kills microorganisms that cause disease. Cleaning well allows the disinfecting agents to work more effectively than disinfecting alone.

The CDC recommends looking for sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Most products contain between 60 to 95 percent. To work at peak efficiency, these products also need to contain some water.

With any product, it’s important to read the fine print on the container. In particular, checking to see how long it takes to kill viruses. A package may claim to kill bacteria in 15 seconds, but for viruses it may take minutes.

Those minutes comprise a span known as “contact time,” that is, the amount of time the surface should remain wet with cleaner for the advertised effectiveness to be expected. For most wipes, recommended contact time is between two minutes and five minutes. For dilutable or ready-to-use formulations, it’s more typically three to ten minutes.

If the label promises to just “sanitize” a surface, the fine print might say that it will kill 99.9 percent of the bacteria, but not mention if it’s effective against viruses or fungi. Consumers need to look for disinfectants that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi when used properly.

Wipes are convenient and easy to use but don’t use just one wipe in an attempt to disinfect an entire kitchen. There must be enough of the disinfecting solution left by the wipe to leave a surface visibly wet for at least four minutes while air-drying to be effective.

An automatic dishwasher with the proper water temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit and a dishwasher detergent that contains chlorine bleach as one of the ingredients will properly disinfect dishes.

When handwashing dishes, wash as usual and add a final soak in a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per one gallon of cool water for two minutes before draining the solution and allowing the dishes to air-dry. Do not use on silver, aluminum or chipped enamel.

Take care to keep alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel out of the reach of young children, the high alcohol content can be fatal to a young child.

— Marla Ballard’s Master of Disguise appears in the Times-Journal Tuesday editions.

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