Selecting a Disinfectant for Forensic Restoration

Whether you’re doing routine cleaning and disinfection or if you’re addressing some of the more extreme challenges associated with forensic restoration, selecting a disinfectant that enables you to achieve your objectives is important. Keeping yourself, your crew and your clients safe from bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) is a primary concern. So is getting the job done right the first time. Disinfectants used in the United States must be registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA approves label claims, which list what microorganisms the disinfectant kills, as well as the time and temperature required to obtain the kill.

When selecting a disinfectant, there are at least five considerations that you will want to think through, and the first is efficacy.

Since many forensic restoration jobs involve removal of organic contaminants and the unknown organisms that are present, you and your crew will be safer if a tuberculoid disinfectant is used. You’ll want to use a disinfectant that is capable of killing TB (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) because as pathogens go, TB is harder to kill than enveloped and non-enveloped viruses, bacteria and fungi.

The EPA maintains a list of tuberculoid disinfectants on its website at and lists of disinfectants effective against Ebola virus and other human pathogens at

If you are concerned about a specific organism, see if you can find it listed on the EPA-approved label. Confer with a microbiologist or an industrial hygienist to confirm whether using a tuberculoid will be effective for your application in lieu of actual test data versus the organism of interest and EPA approval.

Dwell time is another important consideration when selecting a disinfectant. Disinfectants are tested for efficacy against a specific pathogen in a laboratory by exposing that organism to the chemical for a given amount of time (exposure time). If during that exposure time a predetermined number of the microorganisms are deactivated, the disinfectant is considered to have efficacy against that particular “bug.” The dwell time(s) are listed on the label, and you can expect the disinfectant to perform similarly if you keep the surface wet for the specified time under similar conditions.

By alleviating the need to reapply disinfectant, shorter dwell times can have greater commercial value under certain conditions. One of the biggest components of cost during a restoration job is labor, so managing the need to reapply disinfectant where possible can help to maintain profitability.

Disinfectants can evaporate faster in some conditions than in others. Some disinfectant formulations evaporate more quickly because they contain a volatile ingredient such as alcohol. Wiping is a great way to remove biological contamination, but wiping also spreads the disinfectant into a thin film that can evaporate more quickly. A foam applicator can work well with water-based formulations that contain surfactants by converting the liquid into a layer of foam that keeps the surface wet longer. Become familiar with the required dwell time and application method that you intend to use to ensure that the needed dwell time is met.

The third consideration is whether the disinfectant requires pre-cleaning. The EPA states: “An antimicrobial agent identified as a ‘one-step’ cleaner-disinfectant, cleaner-sanitizer or one intended to be effective in the presence of organic soil must be tested for efficacy by the appropriate method(s) which have been modified to include a representative organic soil such as 5 percent blood serum.” When remediating a biohazard, removal of visible soil before application of a disinfectant is recommended, but because certain types of organic contamination can be difficult to see on certain types of surfaces and in poor lighting, using a ‘one-step’ cleaner-disinfectant can offer a safety advantage over disinfectants that require pre-cleaning. It is important to pre-clean surfaces if there is a large amount of organic material present, such as a blood or any other bodily fluid.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) needed when using a disinfectant is the fourth consideration, but per- haps one of the most important considerations for you and your crew. Some disinfectants are relatively benign, while others are reactive and chemically aggressive. Information on the PPE that’s needed can be found on the label of the disinfectant in the Precautionary Statements section, as well as in Section 8 of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for that product. SDS’s also contain Hazards Identification information in Section 2 and First Aid Measures in Section 4.

Finally, ease of use is a consideration that is often overlooked by someone who does not “suit up” regularly out in the field. One product may be easier to apply simply because it doesn’t require the user to wear as much PPE. Another product may be more difficult to use properly because of how quickly it evaporates. Concentrates can cost less to ship, but may fail to work properly if diluted too much. This can result in excessive chemical exposure, chemical residue and hidden cost when not enough water is mixed in. Water quality, such as mineral content, can also adversely affect the efficacy of a diluted concentrate. Ready-to-use product (RTU) does not require labor to dilute, but RTU can cost more to ship and results in more packaging waste.

There are many challenges that make choosing the appropriate disinfectant for addressing a biohazard an important decision. Key considerations include:

• Efficacy against TB and other microorganisms of interest
• Length of dwell time needed to achieve complete efficacy
• Whether pre-cleaning is needed
• Any special PPE that is needed
• Ease of use

In the fight against harmful microorganisms, we have a large selection of tools to choose from. Using both knowledge and ongoing professional training, the forensic restoration specialist can confidently approach the uncertainties of tackling biohazard remediation while keeping the welfare of both team and client first. RIA

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