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Cleaning Glossary technical and disinfection words you may come across

Sharing Information, this is only a guide and is collated from various unconfirmed sources. We hold no responsibility for its accuracy. You will have to confirm your own research on any particular term.

Active Ingredient - Chemical component of a cleaner that inactivates, reduces or destroys organisms. Phenols and quaternary ammonium compounds are typical ingredients in disinfectants. PCMX, CHG and quats are common active ingredients in hand cleaners. These ingredients must be listed on product labels and must appear on the MSDS if it makes up 1% or more of the total weight.

Acute Toxicity - Refers to exposure of short duration, i.e. single brief exposure to a chemical or product. This is used to determine a product’s toxicity profile.

Aerobes - A microorganism that requires oxygen to grow.

AIDS - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome - A disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Airborne Transmission Infection - Pathogens suspended in the air in dust particles, aerosols or sprays.

Alcohol - Used as a skin antiseptic, and to disinfect clinical surfaces and equipment. Product evaporates rapidly and can dry and irritate skin. It is inactivated by organic materials. It does not stain and has quick kill of bacteria. It is tuberculocidal, fungicidal and virucidal.

Algaecide - Products that destroy algae.

Anaerobe - A microorganism which will grow in the absence of oxygen.

Anionic Detergent - A surfactant chemical, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, which ionizes in solution with the oil-soluble portion negatively charged. Excellent cleaning properties. Generally high sudsing.

Antibacterial - A chemical substance which kills public health bacteria.

Antibiotic - A chemical substance that is produced by microorganisms and has the ability to kill or inhibit the growth of other microorganisms.

Antibiotic Resistant - Capable of growth in the presence of one or more antibiotic compound. The resistance of a microorganism to antibiotics does not mean that it is resistant to antimicrobial products.

Antimicrobial - A chemical substance which inhibits or destroys bacteria, virus, fungi, yeasts or molds.

Antiseptic - A chemical substance that kills or inhibits growth and reproduction of microorganisms in or on humans or animals. Because of its association with living tissue, these chemicals are considered drugs and are regulated by the FDA.

Aseptic - A state of being free of contamination from infectious microorganisms.

Autoclave - An instrument that is pressurized by steam, without the inclusion of air, in which articles and/or liquids may be sterilized.

Bacteria - Single-cell microorganisms which are members of the plant kingdom. Pathogenic bacteria are capable of producing infections and are sometimes referred to as “germs” or “microbes”.

Bactericide - A chemical that kills or destroys bacteria. Essentially the same as a “germicide.”

Biodegradable - A substance that can be decomposed by bacteria and/or natural environmental factors. 

Bioload - Number and type of microorganisms present.

Avian flu (AI) – Bird Flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. Low pathogenic AI is common in birds and causes few problems. Highly pathogenic H5N1 is deadly to domestic fowl, can be transmitted from birds to humans, and is deadly to humans. There is virtually no human immunity and human vaccine availability is very limited.

Broad Spectrum Disinfectant - General disinfectant that is recommended in labeling for use against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.

Cationic Detergent - Surfactant detergents with a positive charge. Good emulsification of grease and oil can provide deodorizing and germicidal action. Quaternary ammonium compounds fall into the cationic category.

CHG - Chlorhexidine Gluconate - Ingredient commonly used in hand care products. Has a broad spectrum of activity on fungi, viruses and bacteria and not diminished by blood or other organic material. Unique attribute of CHG is persistence, which is desirable when there is a high risk of infection and where a sustained and high level reduction in microbial flora reduces infection (surgery).

Chlorine - Powerful oxidizing agent often used as a germicide.

Chloroxylenol - Chlorinated hydrocarbon which is a common active ingredient in hand cleaners.

Chronic Toxicity - Refers to exposure of long duration, i.e. repeated or prolonged exposures to a chemical or product.

Contagious - A state whereby a disease or infection may be transmitted or spread from one person to another. Also refers to a microorganism which is capable of causing a communicable disease.

Contamination - A condition of being soiled.

Critical-Use - Refers to items that penetrate skin. Requires sterilization.

Cross-Contamination - The act of transmitting an infection from one infected person to another. Also refers to becoming infected by a microorganism picked up through contact with a surface (or air) which has been contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms.

Disinfectant Claims - Statements made by disinfectant manufacturers, claiming the control or destruction of specific germs. Statements are controlled by the EPA under FIFRA.

Disinfectant-Detergent - A chemical product that is formulated with cleaning agents and germicides, selected for soil removal and simultaneous disinfection.

Disinfecting - Process by which bacteria, fungi or viruses are destroyed permanently.

Efficacy - Effectiveness of the product. List of microorganisms that are destroyed or reduced when the product is used in accordance with label directions.

Efficacy Data - Test results showing effectiveness of antimicrobial substances against specific microbes.

Efficacy Testing - The AOAC test methods for establishing the effectiveness of antimicrobial products against microbes.

Emulsification - Detergent action of breaking up fats and oils into small droplets which can be suspended in water.

Endospore - When a bacterium develops an outer shell (a spore) to protect it from environmental threats - extreme heat, dryness, cold, and toxic chemicals, such as disinfectants.

Escherichia coli  - One of the four foodborne pathogens contained within the E-coli group commonly found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, especially cows.

Fire Point - The lowest temperature at which vapors will ignite in the presence of a flame or spark and burn continuously. (See flashpoint.)

Flash point - Temperature at which a chemical will ignite in the presence of a spark or flame.

Fomite - Nonliving material. Any object or substance, other than food, that harbors or carries infectious organisms.

Fungicide - Any material that can kill fungi. Those fungi with medical importance will be listed on the product label.

Germ - A microorganism that usually causes some type of disease.

Germicide - An agent capable of killing germs. Broad umbrella term describing disinfectants, sterilants, and sanitizers.

Glutaraldehyde - Wide acceptance, high-level disinfectant and chemical sterilant. Chemical becomes sporicidal when activated to a pH of 7.5-8.5. Once activated, these solutions have a shelf life of 14 days.

Gram-Negative Bacteria - Bacteria that are differentiated from other bacteria by their response to a dye test. Survives in moist areas. Examples: Escherichia coli (E.coli) is primarily a urinary tract infection pathogen. Pseudomonas forms the slime in a vase of cut flowers.

Gram-Positive Bacteria - Bacteria with a thick outer cell wall and defined by response to a dye test. These bacteria are especially deadly. Survives in dry areas. Examples: Streptococcus is primarily a respiratory and intestinal
pathogen. Staphylococcus is primarily a skin and wound pathogen.

HAV - The virus that causes Hepatitis A, a highly contagious infection of the liver. HAV is found in feces and is usually contracted through poor personal hygiene or consumption of contaminated water, ice, fruits, vegetables or shellfish. Diapered children in day care centers can be at special risk. Hepatitis A can be prevented by an effective vaccine.

HBV - The virus that causes Hepatitis B which affects the liver and can lead to cancer and death. HBV is 100% more contagious than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Once contracted, there is no cure. Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccine.

HCV - The virus that causes Hepatitis C. This form of hepatitis is most frequently transmitted by large or repeated contact with blood or blood products, and can lead to liver cancer and death. At this time, there is no vaccine against Hepatitis C.

High-level Disinfection - Process by which all forms of microbial life except high levels of spores are destroyed.

HIV - Human Immunodeficiency Virus - Virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Hospital Use Disinfectant - Disinfectant that is labeled for use in hospitals, clinics, dental offices or any other health care-related facility. Efficacy demonstrated against Salmonella choleraesuis, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria.

Host - Any organism (man, animal or plant) which acts as a growth site for parasitic microorganisms.

Hydrogen Peroxide - Used for the disinfection of non-critical items. It is bactericidal, tuberculocidal, virucidal, fungicidal for a
range of pathogens listed on the product label.

Inert Ingredients - Components (solvent, carrier or surfactant) of an antimicrobial product that are not active in destroying target organisms.

Infection - Invasion of the body by a microorganism that can reproduce, multiply and cause disease.

Institutional Use - Product labeled for use in or around any property or facility that provides a service to the public, including, but not limited to, hospitals, nursing and/or resident homes, and schools.

Intermediate-level Disinfection - Process by which vegetative bacteria are destroyed.

Iodophors - Used for handwashing and as a skin antiseptic. Kills a broad spectrum of organisms with quick disinfectant and detergent action. Iodophors are inactivated by organic materials, are not sporicidal and are not suitable for hard surface disinfecting.

Isolate - To restrict the movements of a patient with a communicable disease or infection so that cross-infection to other patients is prevented. Also, to protect the patient so those infectious microorganisms will not be brought into the area by other patients or staff members.

Isolation - Prevent the spread of a communicable disease.

Lethal - Capable of causing death.

Limited Disinfectant - Registered disinfectant with efficacy demonstrated against either Salmonella choleraesuis or Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

Log Reduction - The logorithmic count of a germ reduction by sanitizers. Simply calculated as the “number of 9’s”, a log reduction of 5 equals a 99.999% reduction in germs. This measure is not typically used for disinfectants, since these chemicals achieve a 100% kill rate.

Microbe - Microorganisms.

Micron - A metric unit of linear measure. There are 25,400 microns in one inch. Bacteria usually measure about 1/2 micron wide and 5-10 microns long.

MRSA - Staphylococcus aureus pathogen resistant to antibiotic Methicillin.

MSDS - Material Safety Data Sheet - A form required by law which describes hazardous ingredients and risks in handling chemical products.

Non-Critical Use - Refers to environmental surfaces that do not touch broken skin.

Nonionic Detergent - A type of chemical which possesses surfactant properties, including surface wetting, soil dispersion, etc. Does not ionize with positive or negative charges. Is compatible in mixtures with either cationic or anionic surfactants. Is not compatible with phenolic germicides. Does not react with positive or negative charge. Is compatible in mixtures with either cationic or
anionic surfactants.

Non-pathogenic - Microorganisms which do not cause disease.

Nosocomial Infection - Hospital acquired infection.

Opportunistic - Organisms that cause infection only under favorable conditions. Example - Escherichia coli causing urinary tract infection.

Oxidation  - A chemical reaction where oxygen combines with other substances.

Pathogenic - Disease producing.

PCMX (Parachlorometaxylenol) - Antimicrobial ingredient used in hand soaps which includes broad spectrum and residual activity against gram-negative and gram-positive microbes on the skin.

Pest - The EPA classifies bugs, weed, microbes and fungi as pests, and registers any chemicals that kill or control them.

Pesticide - An agent which prevents, repels, destroys or mitigates pests. Includes insecticides, disinfectants, sanitizers, herbicides and rodenticides.

Phenol Coefficient - Test now infrequently used to determine efficacy of antimicrobial products using phenol as a standard of comparison. The EPA no longer recognizes a product’s phenol coefficient as confirmation of its disinfecting capabilities since some products with high phenol coefficients were ineffective when used in the presence of certain organic matter and products with low phenol coefficients can be effective under actual use conditions.

Phenolics - Active ingredient used in disinfectants to provide bacteria kill. Provides broad spectrum of organism kill and is tuberculocidal. Cannot be used on semicritical items and on bassinets and incubators. Phenols can leave a
buildup of film on surfaces and can cause skin irritation.

ppb - Parts per billion - A measure of concentration of active ingredients.

ppm - Parts per million - A measure of concentration of active ingredients.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa - Opportunistic, gram-negative hospital pathogen that is often seen in urinary tract infections and in wounds and burns. One of three pathogens that must be killed by a hospital grade classified disinfectant.

Quat - Abbreviation for chemical that contains a quaternary ammonium compound.

Quaternary ammonium compounds (Quats) - Active ingredient used to provide kill. Advantages - less irritating to the skin, good cleaning properties, does not form a buildup, remains active in hard water, kills broad spectrum of organisms, fungicidal and virucidal. Disadvantages - not tuberculocidal when used alone, cannot be used to clean up blood spills. If a quat-based product claims tuberculocidal kill, another ingredient, either an alcohol or a solvent, is used in the formulation.

Salmonella choleraesuis - Gram-negative bacteria. Causes gastroenteritis and enteric fever in man. Pathogenic for man and other animals. One of three pathogens that must be killed by a hospital grade classified disinfectant.

Sanitise - The level of clean required to reduce the number of bacteria on a surface. 

Sanitiser - Antimicrobial products that reduce the number of microorganisms from inanimate environments to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations. Food Service Sanitizers must reduce germs by 99.999% in 30 seconds.

Sporicide - Chemical that can destroy or inactivate viruses and all bacteria, fungi and their spores. A sterilant.

Stability - The ability of an antimicrobial product to remain unchanged during storage.

Staphylococcus aureus - Highly resistant gram-positive bacteria. Common human pathogen. It is often responsible for food poisoning, staph infections, skin abscesses and boils. One of three pathogens that must be killed by a hospital grade classified disinfectant.

Sterile - Free from living organisms.

Sterilization - Any process or treatment that destroys or removes all microbial life including bacteria spores. Methods commonly used are dry or wet heat and/or liquid or gaseous chemical sterilants.

Sterilizer - Chemical sometimes called “sporicide” which can destroy or eliminate viruses and all bacteria, fungi and their spores. Highest level of disinfection.

Surface Tension - The attractive forces that liquid molecules below the surface exert on molecules at the surface.

Surfactant - Agent that reduces the surface tension of water or the tension at the interface between water and another liquid. Wetting agent found in many antimicrobial products.

Swine influenza - also called swine flu known as H1N1 is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that causes regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen.

Toxicity - Ability of a substance to cause damage to living tissue, impairment of the central nervous system, severe illness or death when ingested, inhaled or absorbed by the skin.

Toxin - Poisonous substance.

Triclosan - Active ingredient used in hand care products. Good microbial activity against gram-positive bacteria and most gram-negative bacteria. Has excellent persistence on the skin and its activity is only slightly affected by organic matter.

Use-life - Length of time a diluted product can remain active and effective. Stability of the chemical as well as the storage conditions determines the use-life of antimicrobial products.

Vapor - A diffused substance suspended in air.

Virucide - An agent that is able to destroy or inactivate a virus.

Viscosity - The “thickness” of a liquid or its resistance to flow.

VRSA - Staphylococcus aureus pathogen resistant to antibiotic Vancomycin.

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