How to properly disinfect your business

November 4, 2020
min read

Before COVID-19, 88% of New Yorkers used health department letter grades in making their dining decisions. While cleaning has always been crucial to the hospitality industry, it has recently come to the forefront due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ll explore a three-part cleaning and disinfecting plan that covers the best ways to keep your business clean, not only against traditional pathogens but against COVID-19:

  1. Develop your plan
  2. Execute your plan safely
  3. Maintain your plan

Let’s jump in.

Develop your plan

Historically, cleaning procedures mostly focused on foodborne illnesses like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.

However, in this new environment, you’ll need to include procedures that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other threats that could be on the horizon. COVID-19 is a bio-aerosol, which means it spreads when an infected person breathes, talks, coughs, or sneezes. These droplets hover in the air before settling onto surfaces.

With the possibility of the droplets spreading so easily, it is essential to know which areas of your business need the most attention.

Step 1: Determine what needs to be cleaned vs. disinfected.

When discussing cleaning procedures, cleaning and disinfecting are often (and incorrectly) used interchangeably. So what’s the difference between them, and how do they work?

“Cleaning” refers to removing the visible dirt and grime from a surface using soap and water.

Examples of cleaning include things like mopping the floors, wiping down tables, wiping the windows, and other tasks that you would perform regularly.

Areas that haven’t been used by employees or customers only require cleaning.

While plain soap might not seem like much, it’s incredibly powerful. Soap works by sticking to bacteria and viruses on a molecular level and then attaching to water for easy removal of harmful materials from surfaces, including COVID-19.

“Disinfecting” uses products with chemicals that destroy viruses and bacteria’s structure on a cellular level, effectively making them harmless.

High-touch or high traffic areas require frequent disinfecting, including doorknobs, chairs, tables, light switches, toilets, phones, sinks, etc.

Every effort should be made to remove pathogens from surfaces, and disinfectants should play a supporting follow-up role. However, the CDC does not recommend cleaning and disinfecting outdoor areas like sidewalks.

Cleaning and disinfecting should be used together in an effective plan to keep your facilities clean.

Clean and disinfect protocols should start first by cleaning—this means using mild, soapy water to clean hard surfaces and laundering fabrics with detergent using the warmest appropriate water temperature before using a disinfectant.

Tip: Examine your business’s flow and determine if you can eliminate any frequently touched surfaces to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Step 2: Determine what equipment/products to use.

Cleaning is straightforward and only requires basic equipment such as:

  • Paper towels
  • Clean towels
  • Commercial soap products
  • Mops
  • Other regularly available cleaning materials.

Disinfecting requires additional materials to ensure proper safety and effectiveness.

Types of disinfecting agents:

First, you should only use products on the EPA’s List N, which includes all disinfectants that have been proven effective against  COVID-19. (Note: ALWAYS Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the proper protection needed or the Material Safety Data Sheet.)

Many of the products on the EPA’s List N may look familiar but have new disinfecting ingredients in them. There are three main types of disinfectants: bleach (sodium hypochlorite), alcohol (ethyl or isopropyl alcohol) at 65% or higher, and quaternary amines (quats).

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind when working with products that contain these ingredients:


Protection is the most important thing to keep in mind when handling bleach. While exposure to small amounts on your skin or in your eyes can lead to redness and sensitivity, exposure to a large amount can cause burns. Effects of bleach can also cause difficulty breathing, especially to those with asthma or other respiratory issues. Make sure any employee handling products that contain bleach are given PPE that covers their skin and eyes, as well as masks to protect their lungs.

As always, take care when cleaning with different chemicals. Never use products with ammonia, like many glass cleaners and bleach, back to back. When bleach and ammonia are combined, they create chloramines. If inhaled, chloramines can be deadly.


Alcohol generally won’t appear as an additive in other products as a disinfectant since the solution needs to be at least 70% alcohol to act as a disinfectant. However, you’ll likely have hand sanitizers, which should be stored in a cool, dark place, far from any flames or sparks, as alcohol is highly flammable.

Quaternary Amines

While quaternary amines or “quats” are safer relative to bleach or alcohol, care still needs to be taken. Compared to bleach, quats are non-corrosive and are less damaging to fabrics—in fact; they’re an ingredient in some fabric softeners. However, quats can still cause skin irritation, difficulty breathing, and gastrointestinal issues, so PPE is crucial.

It’s also important to note that quarts lose their effectiveness when mixed with organic materials, like blood or soil, making cleaning before using quats that much more critical. This also means using cleaning tools like cloths, cellulose sponges, or other organic materials may make the disinfectant less effective. If you have hard water, you shouldn’t mix it with cleaning products that contain quats.

If in doubt, employees should wear protective gear while cleaning with any of the chemicals above.

Step 3: Determine how frequently you should clean and disinfect your facility.

While COVID-19 can last on surfaces between three hours and three days, other pathogens can survive on surfaces for weeks.

It’s important to clean and disinfect your facilities daily to combat all pathogens, and ideally after each use for high-touch surfaces like tables, menus, handles, and touchscreens.

If an employee or guest has a confirmed case of COVID-19, close off any affected area for as long as possible—ideally 24 hours before cleaning—with open doors and windows to increase air circulation.

Centralized HVAC systems should remain on, but HVAC specific to the room should be turned off. When you’re ready, implement your clean and disinfect protocol on the affected area.

Tip: If you have a confirmed case of COVID, it may make more sense to hire a professional cleaning service to ensure that your business is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected prior to reopening.

Step 4: Train your team

New clean and disinfected protocols mean employees must be trained and made aware of hazards associated with handling cleaning chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, disposing of waste, and PPE and handling a confirmed case of COVID-19 in an employee or guest.

Implement your plan safely

Putting your new plan into motion shouldn’t mean forgetting the basics.

Encourage employees to wash their hands, stay home when sick frequently, and social distance while cleaning to ensure that safety standards are kept in place at all times.

Tip: Post reminders to help employees remember best practices throughout the day.

Cleaning basics

1. Clean from top to bottom. Start with the ceiling and work towards the floor.

2. Clean from outside to inside. Work from the outside walls to the center of the room and then towards the exit.

3. Clean from clean to dirty. Work from the cleanest surfaces in the room towards the dirtiest surfaces.

Common cleaning mistakes

  • Spray directly onto a cloth rather than onto a surface to avoid getting the chemical onto other surfaces, food products, or other people.
  • Never use a cloth that was used with one chemical to apply another chemical.
  • Never place a dirty cloth on a clean surface as it will recontaminate the surface.
  • Never stand on furniture.

Maintain your plan

Flexibility is important when it comes to the latest cleaning procedures. Always be sure to check the latest CDC guidelines for proper cleaning practices before updating your plan.

If you or anyone you know has some come into contact with someone who has been sick, be sure to track your symptoms and get help immediately to protect yourself and other people in your business and community.

Not confident? Hire pros.

If you’re nervous about the time and expertise it takes to keep your facility clean, hire professionals.

Professionals are trained to best clean and disinfect your business and come armed with best-in-class tools and disinfectants.

If you’re interested in learning more about cleaning and disinfecting services, visit us at


Written by

In the industry