Cleaning vs. Disinfection

A Critical Distinction

One of the most critical distinctions in all of sterile processing is the difference between cleaning and disinfection. Why? Because it can determine the success or failure of device reprocessing and is a critical aspect of patient safety.

Cleaning = Soil Removal

Cleaning removes soil from instruments. Ingredients in detergents help loosen and lift the soil so that it can be effectively rinsed off. Inadequate rinsing can allow the soil to settle back on the instruments, which can interfere with subsequent reprocessing steps.

“Cleaning removes microorganisms and other organic and inorganic materials. Cleaning does not kill microorganisms…” (AAMI ST79 7.1)

Different Steps with
Different Goals:

Cleaning = Soil Removal

Disinfection = Microbial Kill (various levels)

Sterilization = Microbial Kill (including spores)

Disinfection = Microbial Kill

Depending upon the device and the use, the item proceeds to a microbicidal process—either disinfection or sterilization—that has been:

“…designed to provide an appropriate level of microbial lethality, one sufficient to inactivate potentially infectious or disease-producing microorganisms.” (AAMI ST79 7.1)

Getting it Right

When cleaning and subsequent disinfection or sterilization are done properly, and in the right order, the result is a device that is safe for patient use. You can safeguard patients and prevent exposure to microorganisms or residual organic matter by understanding the purpose of the cleaning and disinfection processes and helping others to do the same.

What happens when the process isn’t followed? For example, when you use a disinfectant wipe instead of cleaning and rinsing devices, you are smearing and spreading bioburden and soil rather than removing them.  When disinfection is performed without rinsing, or with inadequate cleaning, disinfectants can act as fixatives, essentially “gluing” the soil and microbes in place. Remaining soil and other materials, including biofilm, may also shield microorganisms from contact with the sterilant or disinfectant.

Cleaning Solutions from Case Medical

That is why Case Medical offers our PretaPrep® multi-enzymatic pre-cleaner, CasePrep® non-enzymatic pre-cleaner, and PentaWipes® surface cleaners, non-linting wipe saturated with our Safer Choice labeled PentaZyme® cleaner, for cleaning medical devices.  And yes, as per AAMI, AORN, and CDC standards and recommended practices, we recommend thorough rinsing after the cleaning step for all medical devices, including when cleaning SteriTite® universal, sealed containers.

So, be sure to clean according to the guidelines, review the device manufacturer’s Instructions for Use, rinse thoroughly, and follow with the appropriate disinfection and/or sterilization process. Case Medical offers a line of US FDA Safer Choice labeled Case Solutions® and SuperNova® cleaners for every application.