With COVID-19 gripping the entire world like a dark shadow, many practices are now become a routine part of the daily life of humans all across the globe. Practices that were not taken seriously enough, or were taken for granted, are now the exact preventative measures that need to be taken in order to prevent getting infected from the life-threatening Corona Virus. These practices involve the activities of cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing surfaces and items ranging from groceries to medicines, in order to reduce the chances of getting infected with the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, it is important to understand the ways in which these practices should be performed and what makes cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing different from each other.

When speaking about infection and the risk of it spreading in outdoor and indoor environments, these practices play a significant role in containing the spread. Speaking of the global pandemic of COVID-19, the two main guidelines given by the World Health Organization to control the spread are practicing social distancing and proper cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing of surrounding surfaces. Social distancing seems to be the most effective, but can be completely ineffective if an infected person touches a surface and moves away from it leaving all others reaching to the surface potentially exposed to the virus. It is now important to understand the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sterilization.

  • Cleaning

    Cleaning helps any given surface achieve a standard cleanliness that provides a view where dust, dirt and clutter are not visually visible. The clutter can include debris like dirt, blood, food particles, feces, saliva, other body secretions and impurities are all considered to be foreign material that needs to be removed in order for a surface to look visually clean. The organic matter that helps in the growth of bacteria and viruses is removed and cleaned away in the cleaning process. The process is conducted with the help of cleaning tools, materials and cleaning aids including cleaning agents that help the process to happen in an effective manner.

    The process of cleaning happens easily because of using two components called friction and the use of fluid. Friction is the process of scrubbing and rubbing the surface to remove the impurities and stains while the use of fluid which is usually soapy with water helps the scrubbing to be done effectively by giving moisture to the surface for the stains to come out properly. Cleaning agents come in many forms that include powders, liquids, bars, granules and so on. Cleaning is also the first step to be done before disinfecting and sterilization.

  • Disinfection

    It is the process in which pathogenic particles and pathogenic viruses are destroyed and contained. The process removes and kills all kinds of living organisms from surfaces. These are antimicrobial agents to which microorganisms living on non-living surfaces are exposed in order to be removed. The way the removal takes place is the disinfectants destroy the cell wall and interfere with the metabolism of the organism. There are many different types of disinfectants used in today’s world. Chlorine bleach is the most common and cost effective disinfectant which is used for combating common pathogens including the kinds of organisms present in medical facilities. As effective as disinfection sounds, it does not completely gets rid of all kinds of microorganisms specifically the strong and resistant kind of bacteria. Therefore, to go a notch further, sterilization is used.

    Disinfectants can be harmful and harsh for human skin to come in direct contact of. Therefore, it is recommended to have gloves and protective gear to prevent the skin from getting rashes and burns along with the area being well-ventilated. The purpose of having a well-ventilated area is to have the toxic fumes and strong stench of disinfectants air out of the indoor space.

  • Sterilization

    Sterilization is a step ahead of disinfection. It is the process of completely eliminating all bacteria and microorganisms effectively to eliminate the risk of infections and viruses spreading. These microorganisms include viruses, bacteria, spore forms and fungi. It is achievable by combining heat, chemicals, ultraviolet radiation, and chlorine dioxide gas etcetera. One effective way of sterilizing is the ionizing radiation, which is a low temperature sterilization method that is used in many medical processes, like pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Moreover, dry heat sterilization is used for materials and surfaces that can be damaged by coming in contact with moisture and moist heat like petroleum products, powders etcetera. A more common way of sterilization is through liquid chemicals, where dipping materials in the liquid chemicals for a specific period of time (which is usually around 3 to 12 hours, depending on the material and level of sterilization) can do the trick.

    Bottom line, all three processes are now essential needs during the ongoing pandemic, while experts believe that these will become the new norm to incorporate in daily lives on common people who wouldn’t regularly disinfect and sterilize. The post pandemic world will surely need much more than what was being done before.