Most people are familiar with both terms: disinfection and sterilization. However, they are often misused or confused as the same thing. While both refer to decontamination, disinfection and sterilization are distinct – and understanding the differences is critical in industrial spaces.
For many industries, equipment decontamination is a core process. Without it, hazardous products are made, and unhappy customers (or lawsuits) ensue. Because of this, understanding the differences between disinfection and sterilization is important, and we explore both terms in the following content.
Once you have determined which method is right for your needs, we look into the best nozzles for both processes.
What About Cleaning?
Before we consider disinfection or sterilization, we must address cleaning. Cleaning is another distinct term, often thrown in the category of decontamination. In its simplest form, cleaning is simply “reducing the number of contaminants” on an object.
Cleaning should always come before disinfection or sterilization. The cleaning process removes dirt and other soils from a surface, paving the way for effective disinfection or sterilization. For example, mopping with a bucket of water and soap clears the floor's surface for a disinfectant.
This principle also applies to equipment decontamination in various industries, especially food and beverage and pharmaceutical. Cleaning should proceed with disinfection or sterilization.
We must note that cleaning and disinfection or sterilization could occur simultaneously. One could mop the floor with water, soap, and a disinfectant. However, cleaning is usually the first step in decontamination.
Disinfection and sterilization are both antimicrobial processes. The goal of disinfection is to kill germs and other harmful organisms from objects and surfaces. Disinfectants such as household bleach or sodium hypochlorite are common in households, while chlorine, formaldehyde, and peracetic acid are often found in healthcare settings.
Each disinfectant is designed for an intended use and should generally not be interchanged. Additionally, incorrect concentrations can be damaging to your decontamination or production equipment. Incorrectly combining chemicals can produce deadly toxins. Certain disinfectants require longer lengths of time to work properly.
Be sure to read all usage information from the manufacturer or speak to an expert while selecting the best chemical for your needs. For example, be sure to read what kind of harmful microbes the disinfectant is able to dispose of.
A complete list of common chemical disinfectants, borrowed from the CDC website, include:
- Chlorine and chlorine compounds
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Ortho-phthalaldehyde (OPA)
- Peracetic acid
- Peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide
- Quaternary ammonium compounds
In summary, most disinfectants are designed to kill most viruses, fungi, and other harmful bacteria present on an object or surface area.
Sterilization is the most intensive form of disinfection. To sterilize is to completely neutralize all microorganisms on an object or surface, not only harmful bacteria. Sterilization is most often utilized in healthcare or large commercial settings.
The methods of sterilization are varied, but the CDC provides a helpful list:
- Steam sterilization (autoclaving)
- Flash sterilization
- Low-temperature sterilization
- Gas sterilization
- Hydrogen peroxide gas
- Peracetic acid sterilization
- Ethylene oxide (EtO) gas
- Infrared radiation
- Advanced filtration
Generally, sterilization is done by professionals who are trained in proper procedures.
Which Nozzles Are Best?
Selecting the right chemical for decontamination is one component of proper equipment cleaning. The Sinner’s Circle, pictured below, illustrates the four main factors for successful equipment cleaning.
Alongside chemistry, time, temperature, and mechanics must be considered.
Time and temperature go hand-in-hand with chemistry. How long should the disinfectant remain on the surface of the equipment to work properly? Does the temperature of the water impact the efficacy of the chemical? During research into the proper disinfectant, time and temperature should be determined.
Mechanics are the last component to successful cleaning. Mechanics are the equipment used to complete the cleaning. In the food and beverage, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries, spray nozzles are commonly utilized for decontamination processes.
The first operating principle to consider is nozzle design. At Lechler, we offer four distinct nozzle designs: static, free-spinning, controlled rotation, and gear control.
- Static: Static spray balls do not rotate. Though they are more inexpensive than the other designs, they require more fluid to clean.
- Free-spinning: free-spinning nozzles rotate while in use, driven by the force of the cleaning fluid. They clean effectively at low pressures in small-to-medium-sized tanks.
- Controlled rotation: like free-spinning nozzles, controlled rotation nozzles are driven by the cleaning fluid. However, these are designed with a turbine wheel with an internal gear is used to control the rotation. These nozzles achieve higher impact, important for large tanks.
- Gear-controlled: though the cleaning fluid also drives gear-controlled nozzles, they are controlled by powerful jets that direct the motion in preprogrammed patterns. Gear-controlled nozzles achieve the highest impact and are ideal for large tanks and tough soils.
Lechler: Disinfection Equipment Specialists
At Lechler, we provide custom engineered spray solutions for various markets, including food and beverage, chemical, and pharmaceutical. Our spray solutions are made with performance and durability in mind – our products last for years, providing every customer with the best overall ROI.
Our tank and equipment cleaning selection are suitable for every container and tank size – and the assortment can be a bit overwhelming! Our team of specialists would love to chat about your decontamination needs, guiding you to the best nozzle for your application. Give us a call at (800) 777-2926 or complete our online contact form!