As anyone who’s been in the elevator next to a compulsive
cougher knows, offices are full of germs. But the good news is that you can do
your part to reduce the spread of germs and keep yourself and others from
getting sick. In this article, you’ll find an office cleaning checklist to
ensure your office—whether at home or in a corporate building—is clean and
Cleaning and Disinfecting the Same Thing?
Not quite. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cleaning is the removal
of dirt and impurities—which includes germs—from surfaces. Cleaning removes some germs but doesn’t kill
them. For instance, if you clean a dirty table with warm, soapy water, it will
no longer look dirty. You’ll remove some germs, but many will remain behind.
In contrast, disinfecting uses chemicals to kill germs on surfaces,
but doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces. For instance, if you spray disinfectant spray on a
table after your child plays with playdough, the playdough will remain unless
you clean it off.
When choosing chemicals for disinfection, keep in mind the difference
between a general disinfectant, an antiseptic, an antibacterial product, and a
sanitizer. Unlike a disinfectant, which works on surfaces, you apply an antiseptic to bodily tissues. If you’ve seen a doctor
apply an orange-tinted liquid to their arms and hands before surgery, you’ve
seen an antiseptic in action. An antibacterial product, as the name implies, kills bacteria. But an
antibacterial product does not necessarily kill viruses, such as influenza or
COVID-19. Finally, a sanitizer reduces the number of bacteria, viruses, and
other germs on surfaces, but does not kill as many as a disinfectant. While
reducing the number of germs is helpful in that it lowers the total exposure to
a virus, sanitizers are not as effective as disinfectants. For a full-powered
attack on viruses, such as COVID-19 or cold and flu viruses, you need a
Disinfectant Should I Use?
Several disinfectants kill germs effectively. Check the EPA registration number of the product to ensure the cleaning product
you prefer is effective against the germs you need to target. These are some of
the most common disinfectants.
Many cleaning products, such as disinfecting wipes, are alcohol-based. Alcohol-based products can kill viruses,
bacteria, and fungi and generally do not stain or corrode surfaces they’re
applied to, including screens. Alcohol works quickly, killing some viruses in as little as 30
However, alcohol-based cleaning products are slow-acting against nonenveloped viruses, such
as norovirus. (Good news: COVID-19 and influenza viruses are enveloped.) These products also have no detergent or
cleaning properties. And while alcohol
is safe on most surfaces, it’s drying. If you use alcohol-based cleaning
products on rubber surfaces (such as some staplers or other office supplies),
repeated use can harden or crack the surfaces.
Bleach is a highly effective disinfectant. It kills
viruses, bacteria, and fungi. It’s also one of the cheapest cleaning options.
You only need 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water. (But be sure to use
all the bleach mixture you make. It degrades quickly and isn’t as effective
against germs after 24 hours of mixing.) While it’s not as fast-acting as
alcohol, it kills some viruses in about five minutes.
When using bleach, make sure to be in a well-ventilated area, as the fumes it gives off can be toxic. If you start to feel queasy or lightheaded,
take a break. If your symptoms are severe, call Poison Control at
Bleach is also dangerous when mixed with any solution other than
water, and especially when it’s mixed with ammonia. (Read more on that
Ammonia, found in products such as window cleaner, evaporates quickly,
making it a great cleaning product for streak-free dirt removal. It’s a commonly-used disinfectant for certain
bacteria, such as E. Coli, but it is not as effective against viruses. A
high-impact ammonia concentrate, known as quaternary ammonium compound (QAC) is
effective against viruses, but it’s usually only sold for industrial use, for
instance, in hospitals or restaurants.
Hydrogen peroxide is effective against numerous microorganisms,
including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It’s non-toxic and it works on a wide variety
of surfaces. It typically kills viruses in less than 10 minutes.
Be cautious, though, when spraying hydrogen peroxide on marble or granite.
Because it’s acidic, it can break down finishes with extensive use. Plus, bleaching agents in the product can
cause discoloration of some surfaces. If cleaning a colored surface, test the
product on a discrete area before use.
As mentioned above, you should never mix chemicals. Only mix chlorine bleach, which is sometimes listed as sodium
hypochlorite on labels, with water. The
same is true of ammonia. When
you mix chlorine and ammonia, they create a gas called chloramine, which can cause severe breathing problems
that can be fatal. Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar produce a corrosive acid, which
can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.
As a rule of thumb, never mix a chemical with any other substance. Be
sure to check the ingredients to see which chemicals you’re using. If you need
to dilute one, stick to water.
While looking at the label, be sure to check and carefully follow the
safety instructions. Consistent with CDC guidelines, many products recommend that you work in a
well-ventilated room. Open windows or doors, if possible.
Many cleaning products contain harsh chemicals. Wear gloves while
cleaning to avoid skin irritation. If there’s any danger of chemicals
splashing, wear eye protection.
Once you’ve decided what type of disinfectant best suits your
purposes, it’s time to clean your office. Follow these steps.
Ventilate the space.
If you know someone has been sick in your office with a respiratory illness, such as COVID-19, close off the area, open
the windows, and use ventilating fans. The increased air circulation will help
remove the infectious respiratory droplets. If possible, wait 24 hours after
the ill person has been in the room before cleaning.
Clean then disinfect surfaces.
The CDC recommends that you clean first with soap and water, and
then follow with disinfectant. Washing with soap and water creates a surface
that you can disinfect. If you attempt
to disinfect an unclean surface, the disinfectant will consume the dirt and oil
before it can kill the germs. When you disinfect a clean surface, the
disinfectant can kill the germs as intended.
Watch the time.
Disinfectants work at different speeds to attack germs. As noted
above, alcohol is the fastest-working germ killer, killing some viruses in as
few as 30 seconds. For high-traffic items, such as the stapler, an
alcohol-based disinfectant works best. For areas not touched as frequently, such
as the floor, a bleach- or hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant would work
Clean from top to bottom.
To avoid recleaning areas you’ve already cleaned, start at the top and work your way down. If
you clean and disinfect the tables and then clean the ceiling fan, the dust on
the fan will land on your newly polished surfaces.
Similarly, save vacuuming and washing floors for last, so you can
clean the dust and debris that’s landed on the floor as you’ve cleaned.
Speaking of vacuuming and floor washing, don’t forget to move the
furniture when you clean the floors. If you vacuum or mop around the furniture,
you’ll leave behind hidden areas of dust, grime, and germs.
Pay attention to high-touch
All offices have hot spots that receive more contact than others. Your
keyboard, phone, and mouse are obvious areas that gather germs. But you may not
think of other areas, such as light switches, doorknobs, toilet flushers, the
sides of desks, conference room tables, and community fridge handles.
Wipe down and disinfect community office supplies such as staplers or tape
dispensers. Be sure to pick up office supplies and clean the sides and bottoms.
Disinfecting the top won’t get all the germs.
Now that your office is clean, keep it that way! Encourage everyone in
your office to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after
they use the bathroom, before they eat, and after they touch shared office
equipment. By keeping your workspace and your hands tidy, you’ll help keep
yourself and your colleagues healthy.