July 19, 2019 | 93° F

Cleaning supplies are not as effective as you think they really are

It is common knowledge that the public views microbes in a negative light. It is also a common misconception that bacteria and viruses can be “killed” with disinfectants and cleaning products like Scrubbing Bubbles and Lysol. To provide evidence against this false impression, I conducted an experiment in Bartlett Hall, located on the Cook/Douglass campus, in which I took surface samples of various doorknobs and handles. I transferred the samples on a general medium (Trypticase Soy Agar) and incubated it at 37°C (internal temperature for humans). The media contained bacterial colonies, which would indicate that the disinfectants Rutgers uses might not be enough to inhibit the growth of or kill bacteria.

Viruses are more complicated than bacteria in that, while bacteria are living microorganisms, viruses are nonliving microbial entities. Viruses are composed of single or double strands of genetic material that are sheathed within a protein capsule. They do not “grow." Rather, they require a host cell in order to replicate and produce more viruses. They lack the biosynthetic machinery necessary for life and instead, take over the machinery of the host cell. Viruses can’t be killed because they aren’t considered living so the cleaning products that claim to kill viruses are embellishing the truth. Depending on the virus, it can remain on certain surfaces for 2 to 8 hours (maybe longer), which is enough time for someone to transfer it into their body and allow it replicate within their cells. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the resources to provide evidence of viral growth on the doorknobs in Bartlett Hall. Regardless, proper cleaning methods are necessary to remove even a possible threat to one's health.

To remove the threat of bacteria and viruses, it would be best if Rutgers were to use bactericidal and virucidal cleaning agents. The cleaning products would then kill bacteria and deactivate viruses, respectively. Disinfectants that contain quaternary ammonium compounds followed by anything phenolic or halogen-containing are used in labs, and might be worth a try.

Zobia Ahmed is a School Of Environmental and Biological Sciences student majoring in microbiology. 

Zobia Ahmed

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