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Cleaning vs. disinfecting: What’s the difference?1, 2

For cleaning, decontamination and sterilization in healthcare facilities, the CDC recommends cleaning environmental surfaces that are high-touch at least once daily, while high traffic areas may need increased frequency. Remember when using any cleaning, sanitizing or disinfection chemicals to also wear any PPE recommended by the product’s manufacturer and to perform hand hygiene when done.3 Environmental surfaces and equipment create an opportunity for viruses and bacteria to survive. Germs can live on surfaces for several hours, days or even months. Examples of pathogens that remain on surfaces include:

Clostridium difficile (C. diff)

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)


Hepatitis B

Determining the procedures for cleaning environmental surfaces in individual patient care areas, including frequency, method and process, should be based on the risk of pathogen transmission.

  • Probability of contamination: Heavily contaminated surfaces and items require more frequent and thorough environmental cleaning than moderately contaminated surfaces, which in turn require more frequent and rigorous environmental cleaning.
  • Vulnerability of the patients to infection: Surfaces and items in care areas containing vulnerable patients (e.g., immunosuppressed) require more frequent and rigorous environmental cleaning
  • Potential for exposure (high-touch vs. low-touch surfaces): High-touch surfaces (e.g., bed rails) require more frequent and rigorous environmental cleaning than low-touch surfaces (e.g., walls)
  • Identify high-touch surfaces: Identifying high-touch surfaces and items in each patient care area is the first step in developing cleaning procedures.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting during COVID-19: You may want to clean more frequently or choose to disinfect (in addition to cleaning) in shared spaces if the space is a high-traffic area or if certain conditions apply that can increase the risk of COVID-19 infection:
    • High transmission of COVID-19 in your community
    • Low vaccination rates in your community
    • Infrequent use of other prevention measures, such as mask-wearing (among unvaccinated people) and hand hygiene
    • The space is occupied by people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19

Reference “List N“, a tool from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to understand which products meet the EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19.

Surface disinfectant wipes

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