Soap Does Not Sterilize

Let’s clean some concepts up about soap and cleaning.citrus II cleaning stages

There are four stages of cleaning, according to the any given states regulations regarding the environment of food and health that can effect public safety.

  1. Cleaning
  2. Sanitizing
  3. Disinfection
  4. Sterilization


A break down of each category:

  1. Cleaning – “Physically removing all dirt and contamination, oftentimes using soap and water. The friction of cleaning removes most germs and exposes any remaining germs to the effects of a sanitizer or disinfectant used later.” Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
    1. This process is not meant to kill bacterial, but to disturb dirt and remove it from the surface. Some surfaces, like skin, need bacteria, so using soap and water is effective and necessary for skin health simply to remove dirt and unwanted oils. Many non-helpful bacteria are washed away during this process, if the soapy skin remains under the water for at least 20 seconds, to wash away the disturbed oils and bacteria, now attached to the oils in the soap. The disturbed skin acid mantel and bacteria will reestablish itself soon enough, generally within 12 hours. Its a balance to remove unwanted bacteria and dirt and not to disturb the acid mantel too often, which are the natural oils skin produces as a layer of protection. Read more from Scientific American… 
  2. Sanitizing – reducing germs on inanimate surfaces. A cleaning product can be used for this level of sanitation called Citrus II.
    1. Citrus II – “Cleans, deodorizes, and disinfects surfaces, equipment, and non-critical instruments. A broad spectrum germicidal cleaner, effective as a bactericide, fungicide, and virucide, including Hepatitis B and C, HIV-1 (AIDS) and Tuberculosis, with excellent residual biocide action. It’s also effective against mold and mildew. Great for use in veterinarian offices and clinics , effective against Parvo Virus! EPA-registered, non-alcohol formula contains no toxic chemicals such as phenols or glutaraldehydes, and is tested safe for a variety of surfaces including vinyl and naugahyde. It’s non-acidic, non-corrosive, and non-staining.”
    2. This is ideal for daily cleaning.
  3. Disinfection –  “Disinfectants are products that are applied to inanimate surfaces or objects to kill many or all microorganisms except resistant bacterial spores.” “All disinfectant products are categorized and regulated by the EPA as “pesticides”, so don’t be alarmed that you are using an especially toxic product. Disinfectants are poisons that kill organisms, so they should be handled carefully. Also, disinfectants are only effective when they are applied per instructions for the correct time period. If a surface disinfectant requires 5 minutes to be effective, it will not do its job if it dries on the counter or is wiped off in three minutes.” Differences… 
    1. I certainly could not have said this any better, many think we are disinfecting, but this is a process we rarely, if ever, do in our own households, this process is meant for areas that effect the public. The CDC also states, “Isopropyl alcohol (20%) is effective in killing the cysts of Acanthamoebaculbertsoni (560) as are chlorhexidine, hydrogen peroxide, and thimerosal. Uses.  Alcohols are not recommended for sterilizing medical and surgical materials principally because they lack sporicidal action and they cannot penetrate protein-rich materials.” 
  4. Sterilization – “Sterilization is an extreme physical or chemical process that eliminates all forms of microbial life, including transmissible agents (such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, and all bacterial spore forms).” Differences…
    1. This process is mainly used on instruments. An example would be to autoclave metal tools or surgical tools. Autoclaving involves high heated steam and/or chemicals to kill everything on the surface.

Each process is determined by if the instrument/surface is porous, if the instrument, for example in aesthetics, is plastic or inexpensive and/or invasive like a lancet, (a small needle used for extraction) then these are disposed of and never cleaned or reused.

As an aesthetician we were taught to spray all surfaces, anything we touched (gloved or not) anything that is possible to be wiped down, to be wiped down with Citrus II in between clients and at the end of the day. On non-corrosive surfaces it is advisable to use a bleach mixture, the CDC has guidelines. This is good practice for any soap maker as well. Alcohol is an inferior sterilization product as the CDC states is not recommended lacking sporidical action, because it “cannot penetrate protein-rich materials”.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a mixture of bleach and water is recommended for cleaning.

A Balanced Approach

Before you start seeing everything as a germ colony, let me tell you a story. I worked for a medical instrument company a long time ago. One day I was asked to help out in receiving. What I saw put the fear of germs in me for a long time. There were medical instruments being returned with blood on them. The company I worked for did not require us to wear gloves. I was appalled, and not long for that company… And I survived, unharmed but wiser.

A doctor friend of mine gave me this advice, which has served me well. I asked her how she isn’t sick all the time. She responded, “host receptivity” and explained that as long as she takes responsibility for herself, her health and well being and ensures she is balanced, the chances of a harmful germ or bacteria making a home on or in her are slim. She ensures that she is an inhospitable place for unwanted guests. This idea has given me great comfort when I touch a public bathroom door.

A Few Things You Might Want To Know

I have been a licensed aesthetician since 2012 and although I no longer practice I use the cleaning practices I learned in school daily. I also practiced those standards in the field, although my employers were not trained, it was my job to ensure my clients were safely cared for and protected. My hands were and are always clean, nails trimmed (so not to collect dirt under the nail) and my hair pulled back. Because I like to wash and keep clean, might be the reason I’m so attracted to working with soap.

I love adhering to my discipline and cleaning habits, its part of my spiritual practice, “chop wood, carry water,” which translates to “do all things with mindfulness”. 

Along the way I worked in many restaurants as a server and bartender. Regardless of the less-than-stellar habits of those I who employed me, I stood by my standards for food and drink safety.  I quickly saw how average is not exceptional.

I learned about how standards and discipline keep the balance of healthy bacteria and those little creatures that can threaten us. (I do have a food handlers card, but that doesn’t mean much, for $10 and a test anyone can obtain this card.) I practice protocols and continue to learn about health and self-responsibility, and adapt my practice when I see a more insightful way to maintain standards.

Today, I keep a clean soap lab dedicated to soaping, employ standards and practices and hope to, someday, teach others in my employ how to live with higher than average standards.

I hope this helps to clear up some mis-information about how to clean our environments and our skin.

To learn more about how soap works read: “How Soap Works”.

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