Biofilms are cohesive groups of microorganisms that stick to each other and to a variety of surfaces, often forming a slimy, grimy layer. Biofilms can build up in facilities if a staff member fails to clean surfaces effectively and consistently. Visibly unclean surfaces can affect guests’ perceptions of a facility or a business or even deter guests from returning. Biofilms can also harbor bacteria and protect them from common sanitation or disinfection practices.
There is good news: biofilms are preventable. With the right cleaning and sanitizing solutions and a proven two-step cleaning process – surface cleaning followed by disinfecting – employees can combat biofilms and reduce the risk of future biofilm formation.
Selecting Powerful but Gentle Cleaning and Disinfecting Solutions
Many conventional cleaning chemicals contain corrosive sodium hydroxide (NaOH) in high concentrations, some with as much as 4,000 parts per million. Cleaners with high concentrations of NaOH can irritate the skin, eyes and throat of those exposed and present further health hazards. Therefore, facilities should seek out a cleaning solution that can tackle the complex architecture of biofilms effectively without high levels of caustic ingredients. Specifically, look for solutions that contain less than 500 parts per million of NaOH. Finally, find a cleaning solution that works on a wide range of surfaces from fabric to steel, because biofilms can thrive on many different types of surfaces.
Even after effectively cleaning and removing visible buildup, it is imporant to assure the microoragnisms left behind are removed and not allowed to linger on surfaces. For this reason, seek out disinfectants that truly excel at killing dangerous pathogens. In lab tests, some disinfectants demonstrate greater–than-six-log reductions of pathogens such as Listeria, E. coli MRSA. This reduction means that the number of germs was one million times smaller after using that disinfectant. To see that kind of efficacy, look for a hypochlorous acid solution that contains at least 165 parts per million of free available chlorine (chlorine molecules that have not reacted with contaminants and are “free” to attack microbes). The ideal disinfectant will also be gentle on human skin and present no health risks for building occupants.
Two-Step Cleaning: The Proper Order
Facilities can banish biofilms by following a two-step cleaning process featuring two effective cleaning and disinfecting solutions. The order (cleaning first, disinfecting second) is crucial.
- Step 1: Clean to Expose Hidden Microbes. During this step, employees must aim to remove all unsightly soils or residue on surfaces. This is the step of scuff-scrubbing, stain-stopping and window-wiping. Cleaners should focus on all visible and high-traffic surfaces, such as door handles, restroom countertops, tabletops in common areas and more. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s contact time instructions so that the solution fully removes all traces of soils.
- Step 2: Disinfect to Kill Pathogens. Even on a seemingly spotless surface without visible biofilms, pathogens can lurk. After the cleaning step is thoroughly complete, employees should use a powerful yet gentle disinfectant on the surfaces they clean, especially all high-touch surfaces. Since common pathogens often spread by germ-covered skin touching surfaces in public spaces, emphasize disinfecting high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and toilets extra frequently.
It is also important to keep in mind the factors that may encourage biofilm formation. Biofilms are quite resistant to adverse environments. For example, biofilms thrive with moisture, so they favor wet surfaces such as drains or conveyor belts. Biofilms may grow at a faster rate in high-humidity and high-temperature environments as well. It is important to note, however, that biofilms can also grow in dry environments. This underscores the importance of proper cleaning and disinfecting to discourage the formation of biofilms.
Be Gone, Biofilms!
Nothing about biofilms is appealing to building occupants. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of biofilms is their potential to grow as microorganisms adhere to one another and multiply on just about any surface imaginable. For facility managers, selecting cleaning and disinfecting solutions carefully – stressing effectiveness, safety and the ability to kill pathogens – is one step toward beating biofilms in any facility. The other key component is the implementation of the all-important two-step cleaning process: cleaning to remove soils, then disinfecting to kill germs.