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Two Steps for a Reason: The Case for Cleaning Prior to Disinfection

Posted by Rubbermaid Commercial Products on February 2, 2021

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Cleaning and disinfection have long been routine components of any facility's operations, especially K-12, Higher Education, and Government Buildings.

Yet, they have been moved from the sidelines to center stage by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. While facilities seek to enhance these practices, it is imperative to bear in mind that there is a necessary order to the process. As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cleaning is “the necessary first step of any sterilization or disinfection process” or, more simply, you must clean before you can disinfect."

The rationale for this two-step approach is rooted in the very reasons we clean and disinfect in the first place: to render surfaces aesthetically appealing by removing debris and soils and, most importantly, to reduce environmental infection transmission risk.

As facilities of all types seek to ensure a safe environment for their occupants by developing and implementing environmental infection control procedures, it is critical to understand the research and rationale behind the recommendation to “clean first” in order to achieve the desired outcome—reduced risk of environmental infection transmission.



Aesthetic appeal. A dusty or soiled surface arguably holds little appeal, whether it is a classroom desk, a hotel sink, or a hospital bedside table. Regardless of the setting, “clean” facilities imply a certain degree of care and attention to operational detail that could only help how a business or organization is perceived.

The risk of environmental infection transmission. Though the risk of environmental infection transmission has been widely acknowledged in healthcare settings for a number of years, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue into greater focus across a wide range of facilities. It is recommended that government, accrediting, and professional organizations enhance cleaning and disinfection methods during the pandemic to prevent the spread of infections.



  • Clean and disinfect with a towelette and a heavy hand. The actual physical removal of microorganisms and soil by wiping or scrubbing is probably as important, if not more so than any antimicrobial effect of the cleaning agent used.
  • Clean first, then disinfect. In order to effectively kill pathogens and protect against biofilm formation, disinfectant chemicals must have direct contact with the pathogen; however, soils, dirt, and debris can coat or protect microorganisms, essentially serving as a protective barrier between the chemical and the target. This creates even more of a need for the two-step process.
  • Use no-touch cleaning technology in addition to cleaning and disinfecting products. Ultraviolet (UV-C) light, hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV), and electrostatic sprayers can reduce microbial contamination, however, experts caution that they should be used as an adjunct to standard manual cleaning and disinfection rather than as a substitute.

*The CDC has not yet published recommendations supporting the use of no-touch technologies, including UV-C, HPV, and electrostatic spraying, citing a need for additional research.



When it comes to disinfecting surfaces, bypassing the critical cleaning step and proceeding straight to disinfection—whether with electrostatic spraying, UV-C/HPV decontamination, or even hydraulic spraying with cleaner-disinfectants—can potentially undermine the goal of reducing infection transmission risk. No matter the facility, the guidance is clear: cleaning prior to disinfection provides the best risk reduction for lowering the spread of infection, which is the ultimate goal of any cleaning and disinfection program and a public health imperative today.

To view the full whitepaper from Rubbermaid Commercial Products, click here.

For more information on Rubbermaid Commercial Products, click here.



The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the focus on cleaning and disinfection for many facilities, thereby increasing demands on resources, including time and expenses. At OMNIA Partners, we save you time and money on all of the necessary janitorial and sanitation supplies, equipment, and related services your facility needs. Rubbermaid has the products and solutions you need on multiple competitively solicited and publicly awarded cooperative contracts. Our cooperative contracts ensure that your facility has all of the necessary resources to follow these evidence-based best practices in order to achieve optimal outcomes. To learn more about our cooperative contracts click here.

Topics: Facilities & Infrastructure, Local & State Government