What is the adaptation between cleansing, disinfecting, sterilising?


During the corona pandemic, much has been spoken about personal hygiene, with the words cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilising used interchangeably.

First, cleaning. Cleaning is the removal of any visible particle, ranging from dust to fallen food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes it as, “The removal of foreign materials (soil and organic material) from objects and is normally accomplished using water with detergents or enzymatic products.” This is also the first step to disinfection and sterilisation.

“It is enough to clean our houses as we always did, if there are no family members who are infected. But this process does not kill the bacteria or virus; it instead reduces its percentage on the surface,” says Dr. Vinay D., Consultant and Head, Department of Infectious Diseases, Apollo Hospital, Bengaluru. “If there are any people who are infected with the coronavirus, we should disinfect the common areas and the surfaces touched by the person, to avoid its spread.”

Disinfection helps us kill germs with the use of chemicals. “This can be done with bleach, chlorine or any alcohol-based product available in the market. But this process can still leave still behind vegetative spores on the surface.”

Some common areas that have to be disinfected are doorknobs, light switches, counter tops, tables, handles, taps, toilets, and electronic devices. “Check if the product says disinfectant in its label and make sure it has not passed its expiry date. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for its application. It is best to wear gloves when you are handling disinfectants to prevent irritation on the skin,” Dr. Vinay warns.

You can make a household bleach solution by mixing four teaspoons of bleach with a litre of water. In the kitchen, he suggests soaking utensils in warm soapy water for a few hours before washing them. “If you go out, soak your clothes in an antiseptic solution for 30 minutes. Wash these and dry them under the sun before you wear them again,” he says.

The next level is sterilising. According to the CDC, this process destroys all the microorganisms on the surface or in a fluid to prevent disease transmission associated with the use of that item. “It kills everything including the spores.” This is especially important for hospitals, where surgeries take place. “This is to make sure that the germs do not get transmitted from one patient to another. It can be done using heat, autoclave (steam under pressure) or radiation. But sterilisation is not essential to be done for the amount of germs that can be found at homes,” says Dr. Vinay.

In this column, we demystify the buzzwords in wellness

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