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Can My Detergent Kill Germs? Navigating the Chemical Dilemma in Sterile Processing
August 08, 2023

When it comes to Sterile Processing, ensuring the cleanliness and safety of medical instruments is of paramount importance. As contaminated instruments arrive, the journey towards thorough soil removal begins with the use of various detergents. However, complexities arise when we consider the delicate balance between germ-killing and device compatibility in the "dirty" decontamination process.

The challenge becomes even more intricate when items cannot undergo thermal disinfection in washers, often leading to the dilemma of chemical selection. Device instructions must be meticulously followed, sometimes recommending the use of alcohol for "cleaning" purposes. Yet, the selection of a chemical that effectively cleans, adheres to device instructions, and avoids causing damage requires careful consideration. 

Two key factors must be understood in this chemical conundrum: detergents cannot claim to kill germs unless they are EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registered, and disinfectants are not evaluated for their cleaning action by the EPA.

Disinfectants are armed with potent chemicals designed to annihilate germs, frequently utilizing active agents such as alcohols, peroxides, or ammoniums. However, the very same chemicals that combat germs may inadvertently hamper the cleaning process or lead to corrosive effects. 

In instances where device instructions recommend steering clear of alcohol during processing, a viable solution could be a water-based disinfectant. ProSpray® is an intermediate level water-based disinfectant enriched with cleaning surfactants, boasting an alcohol content below 5%. This EPA registered product is available in various forms, including liquid ready-to-use, liquid concentrate, and pre-saturated disinfectant wipes. The EPA-approved label proudly states that ProSpray is not only a disinfectant but also an effective cleaner. 

For those seeking to delve deeper into the realm of disinfectant selection and utilization in Sterile Processing, valuable resources can be found in Annex E of AAMI ST79:2017 and AAMI TIR68:2018. These documents provide invaluable insights into the intricate world of disinfectants, empowering Sterile Processing professionals to make informed decisions that prioritize both cleanliness and safety. 

In the intricate dance between germ-killing and device material compatibility, navigating the chemical dilemma becomes a matter of knowledge, prudence, and access to effective solutions. Through a blend of EPA-registered disinfectants and meticulous adherence to device instructions, Sterile Processing professionals can continue their vital mission of ensuring patient safety and quality care.