In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Amy Johnson, RLATG, LVT, CVJ focuses on the top 10 mistakes that veterinary professionals make in the veterinary clinic. Not sure what disinfectant to use in the veterinary clinic? More importantly, find out what common disinfection mistakes you want to avoid in your veterinary hospital, so you can keep your hospital clean – otherwise, it renders our work useless, and can result in antimicrobial resistance, infectious spread of disease and risk to your staff. Learn it with this VETgirl blog!
Top 10 Disinfecting Mistakes
When working in a veterinary setting, cleaning and disinfecting become secondhand nature. We do it ALL. THE. TIME. We should know what we are doing, but do we? Unfortunately, the answer is often no. There are some common mistakes made with disinfectants that will render our work useless in the veterinary clinic. These aren’t minor mistakes and we want to make sure to avoid it; otherwise, we put our veterinary patients, clients, and ourselves in danger.
Here, the top 10 disinfecting mistakes that veterinary staff, veterinary technicians and veterinarians need to make sure EVERYONE in the practice knows how to avoid:
- Not diluting disinfectants properly
“Eyeballing” the color of a diluted liquid in spray bottles is fast and easy but is mistake #1. All concentrated disinfectants come with instructions on how to dilute them. We must follow those instructions to the tee, which means measuring out specific volumes and resisting the urge to “guesstimate” the water and concentrated disinfectant that ends up in our spray bottles. Chemicals that are too dilute won’t work the way they should, and ones that are too concentrated can be dangerous to our patients or ourselves.
Pro-tip: Have a measuring cup by the sink where disinfectant is diluted with clear marks as to where it needs to be filled to. If we make measuring as easy as eyeballing, our teams are more likely to follow the protocol.
- Not knowing/tracking expiration dates of your disinfectant bottles
Not only should you be paying attention to the expiration of your concentrated chemical, but you need to understand how long your dilution is stable. Most chemicals, once diluted, are only good for a day or two at the most. Using chemicals beyond their stated expiration date will do us as much good as wiping our surfaces down with water alone.
Pro-tip: Keep an expiration log, use stickers with expiration dates on spray bottles, or come up with an tracking system that your team will use (Hello, Google calendar!).
- Topping off disinfectant bottles
Although topping off bottles may seem proactive, it is another common mistake. Once you have diluted your chosen chemical in a secondary container, do not top them off to keep them full. Adding to already diluted bottles means that the concentration is not likely what it should be, and if the chemical in the container was close to expiring, your new diluted disinfectant will not work as well once mixing has happened. Always use the bottle until empty or empty the bottle of all contents, wash it out, and start fresh to make sure your disinfectant is at its full strength with a known expiration.
- Mixing chemicals / disinfectants
Only mix the concentrated chemical with the appropriate diluent listed in the instructions and don’t add any other chemicals to the mixture. For example, I have seen practices mix scents or essential oils into disinfectants to make the practice smell better. Although smell can be important, this will inactivate your disinfectant, putting patients at risk. Your mop water may smell amazing, but you are essentially mopping with great smelling water. The same thing goes for mixing soaps with disinfectants. If you wash something with a soap and then don’t fully rinse it before adding a disinfectant to that surface, the chemicals can mix and potentially put off a toxic gas.
- Not knowing or meeting disinfectant contact times
Time is of the essence when you are busy and turning that exam room, surgery table, or even cage is important to keep your workflow moving smoothly and quickly. BUT each chemical requires a specific time in which it must remain wet on the surface of the object being disinfected to be able to do its job entirely. We need to read the labels and understand what the specific contact time is for each chemical and train our teams to allow that time. If we spray a chemical that has a contact time of five minutes on an exam room table and immediately wipe it dry, we have shot ourselves in the foot and done very little in protecting the next patient to touch that table.
Pro-tip: Many companies are now producing disinfectants with shorter contact times. If this is important to your workflow, do your research and find a chemical that suits your needs.
- Confusing cleaning and disinfecting
Cleaning is defined as using a detergent and water to physically remove dirt, debris, organic material, and some germs. Disinfecting (or disinfection) is using a chemical to kill, deactivate, or significantly reduce the number of microorganisms on a surface. The two terms are often used interchangeably, and the processes are frequently mixed. We commonly spray disinfectant on a dirty surface and immediately wipe the chemical and debris off of the surface. Instead, make sure to clean the surface first if there is organic material present. In our veterinary practices, this is very common; whether it be dirt, feces, dander, or other material, we must get it off of the surface for two reasons:
- Organic material will often deactivate many disinfectants
- Organic material is usually a physical barrier that will block the disinfectant from reaching the surface it is supposed to be acting on
Once the surface has been cleaned, it can then be disinfected making sure to allow for the appropriate contact time.
Pro-tip: There are disinfectants that have detergency properties. These chemicals can be used for both cleaning and disinfecting to avoid confusion.
- Not choosing the right disinfectant
There are many chemicals on the market that we can choose to use in our veterinary practices. Each type of disinfectant is going to work better on some microorganisms than others. Choosing the wrong one will result in some organisms not being deactivated/killed. For example, a quaternary ammonium compound will easily kill both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria but is useless in killing most viruses (Antimicrobial Spectrum of Disinfectants, The Center for Food Security and Public Health). Ensuring to choose the proper disinfectant for your practice is essential and that might include needing more than one based on the situation.
Pro-tip: Make sure to have well-defined standard operating procedures (SOPs) when it comes to cleaning and disinfection. Keep these SOPs in a binder or electronically where they are accessible to everyone and strictly define what chemical gets used in which situation based on the suspected microorganism.
- Missing high-touch surfaces when it comes to disinfection
There are many high-touch areas in the practice that should be disinfected, probably now more than ever (Hello, COVID!). Think about what you touch every day and make sure there is a protocol for cleaning and disinfecting everything regularly, including door handles, pens, computers, phones, cage handles, washing matching handles, etc.
- Not training appropriately on how to disinfect your veterinary clinic
You can’t assume everyone in your practice knows how to clean and disinfect properly or how to prepare disinfectants. There needs to be a training process put in place, where all team members (yes ALL) are trained upon hire and retrained when necessary. Anytime you put a new protocol in place or decide to use a new chemical written SOPs need to be updated and the team retrained.
- Not getting buy-in from your veterinary team on chemicals and the disinfection processes
Buy-in doesn’t seem like it would be that important but when your entire team is responsible for follow-through on these protocols, you want to have them all on the same side. Any confusion, lack of understanding, or opposition to a new protocol will cause corners to be cut and mistakes to be made. Give them choices, explain pros and cons, and make their opinions important. After all, they are the ones that will be doing the work. If they feel valued and heard they are less likely to do things their own way.
Disinfection seems easy, but these mistakes are a big deal. Our patient’s health depends on how well we clean and disinfect, and in the time of COVID, our colleagues and clients also benefit from the process being done properly. These mistakes are easy to avoid with the right training and attention to detail.