News & Updates

September 16, 2020

COVID cleaning: Detergent vs. Disinfectant

COVID cleaning is at the top of the news at the moment as part of the national conversation about COVID-19 in residential aged care facilities. Whether you’re in a RACF or cleaning at home, you’ve probably seen a few different cleaning products on offer. But which one is the right one for you and the situation, and is it possible to clean the wrong way?

Let’s have a look at detergents and disinfectants to see what the differences are, and when we might use either, or even both.


The following is an extract from the NHMRC Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare 2019:

Routine cleaning with detergent and water, followed by rinsing and drying, is the most useful method for removing germs from surfaces. Detergents help to loosen the germs so that they can be rinsed away with clean water. Mechanical cleaning (scrubbing the surface) physically reduces the number of germs on the surface. Rinsing with clean water removes the loosened germs and any detergent residues from the surface, and drying the surface makes it harder for germs to survive or grow.

Routine cleaning with detergent and water is the process by which physical dirt and grime are removed from surfaces in facilities. All surfaces should be routinely cleaned with detergent, and should be included in a comprehensive cleaning schedule.


Disinfectants are usually only necessary if a surface that has already been cleaned with detergent and water is suspected or known to have been contaminated by MROs and/or other potentially infectious material including blood and other bodily fluids. Most germs do not survive for long on clean surfaces when exposed to air and light, and routine cleaning with detergent and water should be enough to reduce germ numbers. Disinfectants might be used after routine cleaning during an outbreak of, for example, a gastrointestinal disease.

Disinfectants are used when you’re worried about what might persist after cleaning. Disinfectants should be used in the presence of infectious diseases, which may include y MROs, gastro and COVID-19. I Disinfectants should not be used on their own.

Two-step cleaning

A physical clean using a detergent followed by a disinfectant with a TGA-listed hospital-grade disinfectant with specific claims or a chlorine-based product such as sodium hypochlorite where indicated for use i.e. physically clean with detergent, then physically disinfect. The process of cleaning and then disinfecting is also known as a ‘two-step clean’. This is different a two-in-one clean. The two-step process involves using a detergent wipe followed by a disinfectant wipe.

The two-in-one principle applies to the use of two-in-one wipe (wipes that are designed specifically to physically clean and disinfect at the same time). Disinfectant wipes should not be used on their own.

Two-in-one cleaning

2-in-1 clean—a physical clean using a combined detergent and TGA-listed hospital-grade disinfectant with specific claims or a chlorine-based product such as sodium hypochlorite, where indicated for use i.e. a combined detergent/disinfectant wipe or solution could be used if this process also involves physical cleaning.

Note that this step doesn’t mean combining any detergent with any disinfectant (like tipping them both into a mopping bucket). Physical (mechanical or manual) cleaning is the most important step in cleaning.

COVID cleaning conclusion

When cleaning to try and combat COVID-19, or any infectious organism that spreads on these types of surfaces, remember always to clean with detergent first (i.e. a physical clean) and then disinfect. If you don’t do a physical clean first, the pathogens you’re trying to kill can hide under the grime on those surfaces and the disinfectant may not be able to reach them.

It’s unlikely that you enjoy cleaning, whether it’s at home or work, but fortunately the NHMRC guidelines have made it very clear where and when we should be cleaning, and how.

Read more here If you would like to know more about COVID cleaning in the home.

Read more here if you would like to know more about when to clean and when to disinfect in more detail.

If you would like more information about how to properly prepare your facility for a COVID-19 outbreak, contact Bug Control with your questions and concerns. With over twenty-five years in helping aged care facilities in Australia and New Zealand, we know we can help you with your question or concerns, no matter what they are. Contact us today.