In this article
Nothing is more important than the health of yourself and your family. A clean and healthy living environment is one of the steps you can take to ensure that germs and bacteria are kept at bay as much as possible. Bacteria, mould and dust can cause allergies, asthma and other health concerns. Regular cleaning will significantly lower the potential for sickness, and create a healthier family overall.
Cleaning is a core part of daily life, whether this is at home, in the workplace or simply practising good personal hygiene, for example washing your hands. Everyone carries out some sort of cleaning task at some point in their day. In some workplaces, cleaning is critical to the health and safety of customers and staff, for example in a kitchen environment.
Ensuring that you have an effective cleaning method is crucial for ensuring that you fully remove harmful microorganisms. This has been particularly true during the Covid-19 pandemic whereby people have focused on the importance of cleanliness even more so than usual.
The specific cleaning procedure and products used may vary depending on what and where you are cleaning, but, generally, there will be six stages of cleaning that will ensure you completely disinfect contaminated surfaces.
The benefits of cleaning are:
- Sanitation – Every time you clean the house with disinfectants, you are killing bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that can compromise your health. Powerful cleaning products target germs and bacteria like E. coli, staphylococcus and salmonella. These are responsible for many food-borne illnesses and infections. Sanitising surfaces in your kitchen, bathroom and other areas of the house will help protect you from potentially dangerous bacteria.
- Reduces mould – Mould can cause health problems such as allergic reactions, cold and flu-like symptoms, asthma attacks and other health problems. Regular cleaning controls mould growth.
- Reduces stress/improves mental health – The physical activity of cleaning and then the end result of having a clean home is thought to reduce stress, feelings of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
- Lowers the risk of injury – Keeping your home clean and organised can reduce the risk of injury. Clutter can lead to someone falling or something falling on them.
- Reduces pests – Bugs and other household pests can disguise themselves in dusty and untidy areas. Taking out the rubbish, sweeping and vacuuming all help to keep bugs and other pests from nesting in your home.
The importance of cleaning procedures
Ensuring the workplace is sufficiently clean is a legal requirement under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. This is important because certain microorganisms and contaminates can pose a risk to people’s health and wellbeing.
During the Covid-19 pandemic particularly, this has been important for minimising the spread of the virus. This is especially important for high touch surfaces such as light switches, door handles, railings and shared appliances and tools.
Effective cleaning can prevent:
- Common viruses such as Covid-19, flu and the common cold.
- Non-food allergens such as dust.
- Food-borne viruses such as E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which is the most common bacterial cause of diarrhoea and can pose a risk in hospitality. For further reading about food-borne diseases please visit our knowledge base.
- Food allergens, even tiny traces of a food allergen, can cause an allergic reaction for someone who is allergic.
- Infections that can transfer via bodily fluids, for example in a healthcare setting or tattoo parlour.
What are the dangers?
Germs can be spread from person to person, or by touching unclean equipment or surfaces. To prevent the spread of germs, it is important to focus your efforts on cleaning areas of the house where germs are more likely to spread, such as the kitchen and bathroom. Many germs are harmless to humans but some can cause disease and even death.
According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), approximately 2.4 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur every year in the UK. It is important for everyone to be aware of food-borne diseases especially those working in catering and hospitality as they have a significant role to play in preventing illness.
They also have legal duties, under the Food Safety Act 1990, to ensure that any food they provide is safe for customers to eat. Effective cleaning is an important part of this process. Microbes can be spread between food during the preparation process, for example with unclean hands or using dirty kitchen utensils. This is known as cross-contamination. For tips on how to improve your food hygiene rating please see our knowledge base.
What are the safety precautions?
It is important when cleaning that some safety precautions are taken.
These can include:
- Following any risk assessments if cleaning at work – This ensures you are following any specific safety guidelines for your workplace and you are cleaning in an organised and effective way.
- Following any training given when cleaning at work – This may include things like familiarising yourself with hazardous substances and how you can reduce the risk posed by them and ensure you are using them in a safe way.
- Ensuring you are using the appropriate cleaning products for the task you are carrying out – This may mean that you are using different products depending upon the setting you are cleaning, e.g. food-borne specific products in a catering setting, or Covid-19 cleaning products in a workplace setting. They should also be suitable for whichever surface you are cleaning such as for a kitchen countertop or another specific material.
- Always following the manufacturer’s guidance and instructions – This may include using recommended concentrations or dilutions for chemical substances. They should always be stored safely and according to the instructions. This ensures that any incompatible substances are kept apart and will minimise exposure. At home, chemicals should always be stored safely and away from pets and children. You can find out more here about chemical safety in the home. You should never mix different chemicals together as this can cause dangerous reactions. Even if you have the same type of chemical, these should never be mixed.
- Wearing PPE such as gloves and aprons – Gloves are important to protect your hands from the chemicals you are using which can cause things such as contact dermatitis, which is a type of eczema triggered by contact with a particular substance. The skin can become itchy, blistered, dry or cracked. It may also be useful to wear an apron, to prevent any chemical contamination that could penetrate your clothes and cause harm to your skin.
- Ensuring there is sufficient ventilation – This can be achieved by opening windows and doors, for example. This will minimise harmful substances in the air which can be created by the chemicals you are using. This could cause health issues such as asthma.
Ensure you wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning, even if you were wearing gloves.
Cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting
Cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting all refer to slightly different things. Understanding the difference can help ensure that you are adopting the right procedures, and you are cleaning to a sufficient standard.
Cleaning refers to the removal of visible contamination from the surface such as dirt, dust, debris or spillages and other obvious contaminants. In the six stages of cleaning, this would be steps one and two. This will make the area more visibly clean and tidy, removing any contaminated materials and substances. This will prepare the area for a deeper clean.
Cleaning alone does not kill microorganisms on the surface, and therefore the next stage of cleaning is required in order to achieve this. Cleaning is just the first step in a complete decontamination process but it is a step that you cannot skip. Even if you intend to sanitise or disinfect the area, cleaning away visible dirt, dust or debris beforehand, makes it easier and more effective to remove microscopic germs with a more intensive method.
Sanitising refers to the process of removing or reducing microorganisms on a surface to a safe level. This is particularly important for surfaces that come into contact with food. Sanitisation can reduce the risk of infections from microorganisms and kill the majority of bacteria; it will not be effective enough to completely eliminate all microorganisms.
A sanitiser kills 99.999% of the specific test bacteria, therefore while sanitisers can kill the majority of certain kinds of bacteria, sanitisation products and techniques alone cannot eliminate all viruses.
Disinfecting is a step up from sanitising, and its purpose is to fully destroy all microorganisms and pathogens. There are different levels of strength and effectiveness of disinfectants and the grade level of disinfectant to be used will depend upon the risk level of the setting it will be used in. A hospital, for example, would use a much higher grade of disinfectant than an office or restaurant.
The grades of chemical disinfectants:
- Low-level disinfectant kills almost all vegetative bacteria and some viruses and fungi, but not bacterial spores.
- High-level disinfectant eliminates all microorganisms except for small numbers of bacterial spores. It is capable of killing bacterial spores when used in adequate concentrations in suitable conditions.
- Hospital-grade disinfectant is approved by the environmental protection agency for use in hospitals and other medical facilities including clinics and dentists. These types of disinfectants will destroy many known infections and disease-causing bacteria.
It is useful for a setting to carry out a risk assessment to decide which level of disinfectant is appropriate for their setting and consult with the suppliers and manufacturers of cleaning products where needed.
The six stages of cleaning
Following an effective cleaning procedure is important for health and safety reasons. It ensures that you fully remove microorganisms and that you do not spread them and that any additional risks are minimised.
Each of the six stages of cleaning helps you to focus on certain key aspects of effective cleaning. This will include preparing the surface for a thorough clean by removing anything visible, followed by destroying microorganisms, to removing any chemicals so the surface has been properly disinfected and is ready for use. The surface would then be ready, for example, to prepare food in a safe way.
This is the first stage of cleaning where you would remove substances and loose debris from the surface you are cleaning. This would include wiping, sweeping or rinsing. Removing as much loose debris as possible is ideal in order to prepare for the next stage of cleaning.
2. Main clean
The second stage of cleaning is to loosen any substances, debris, dirt or grease that you were unable to remove during the pre-clean stage. This would involve using hot water and a detergent. You may be able to use detergent and then wipe immediately or you may have to leave the detergent on for a period of time before wiping.
The third stage of cleaning is to remove all of the loosened dirt, debris and substances as well as the detergent. You can do this by using clean hot water and a cloth or mop.
The fourth stage of cleaning is to disinfect the surface, which will destroy bacteria and other microorganisms. This could be done by using heat or a chemical disinfectant for a prolonged contact time. Follow the specific instructions for any products or equipment you use.
5. Final Rinse
The fifth stage of cleaning is to remove any disinfectants from the previous stage using clean, hot water. Depending on the surface you’re cleaning and disinfectant you’re using this step may not always be necessary. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidance and seek further advice if you need to do so.
The final stage of cleaning is to dry the surface. It is recommended that you air dry wherever possible. You can use drying cloths but these should be single-use, especially if you are in a commercial setting.
You should not air dry any cloths and reuse them, as bacteria can grow on the cloths and contaminate surfaces. You should thoroughly clean any cloths and any other reusable cleaning products. Wash them with soap and water after use and dry them.
After you have finished the six stages of cleaning, the surface will be fully cleaned and most, or hopefully all, microorganisms will have been destroyed depending on which cleaning products you have used.