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COVID-19 Cleaning Terms Guidelines and FAQs from Bona

Read any article, social media post or advertisement on cleaning right now and the language can feel confusing. From killing germs to antimicrobial coatings to antibacterial products, what are the appropriate terms to use and in what context?

Following is a high-level glossary of terms as well as a few resources to help you understand many of the claims happening across the flooring and cleaning industry.  These terms are listing by level of removal from least to most:

Cleaning: The process of cleaning simply means removal of dirt, debris, and dust from a surface.  Through a combination of solvents or detergents, water, and physical scrubbing, cleaning products loosen messes from the floor to be washed away. The process does not kill germs but can remove germs from the surface and prevent the risk of spread. The CDC recommends cleaning a surface before disinfecting in order to wipe away any dirt or debris where germs can hide.  

Sanitizing – The process of sanitizing kills germs but at a lower level than a disinfectant.  Sanitizers reduce the number of microbes on a surface to a safe level (99%), while disinfectants kill practically everything on a surface (99.9%). Both sanitizers and disinfectants must be registered by the EPA, as a pesticide, to make the claim it will kill germs.  Look on the front label for the active ingredient of the product.  To ensure it is an EPA registered product, the registration number, is located on the back label. 

Disinfecting (Antibacterial) – In addition to killing germs, which are classified as bacteria and viruses, disinfectants go a step further to also kill mold, mildew and fungi. Chemicals registered by the EPA that are labeled as a disinfectant or antibacterial product (they are one in the same) kill nearly all germs, up to 99.9%, on the surface. Look on the front label for the active ingredient of the product.  To ensure it is an EPA registered product, the registration number, is located on the back label. 

Sterilizing – is the highest level of germ kill and reserved for hospital use only.  The chemicals used in a sterilizer are also regulated by the EPA and provide the highest level of germ kill at 100% along with killing their microbial spores associated with the germs.  Look on the front label for the active ingredient of the product.  To ensure it is an EPA registered product, the registration number, is located on the back label. 

As with all products, it’s important to follow the instructions for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization as dwell times, how long the surface must stay wet, differ to achieve different levels of germ kill. 

Antimicrobial – A product with built-in antimicrobial protection is only claiming protection for the surface in order to help inhibit the growth of microbes which may help the surface stay cleaner and fresher longer. This type of claim is also regulated by the EPA under what is referred to as a Treated Article Exemption. This is a lesser classification within the EPA than for disinfectants/antibacterial products. Specifically, the claims must describe protection of the product, not protection of the person using it. For example, an anti-microbial claim on a finish will protect the floor but will not prevent those living on the floor from germs.

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