Decontaminating visibly dirty surfaces matters


25th September 2023


In the battle against healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), the importance of infection prevention and control (IPC) has never been clearer. While many aspects contribute to IPC, one key area that often goes unnoticed is the role of visibly dirty surfaces. Recent evidence underscores that effectively decontaminating these surfaces is not just about aesthetics — it significantly impacts the success of IPC measures.

Simple decontamination of visibly dirty surfaces extends beyond mere aesthetics, it’s a pivotal IPC moment. Decontamination involves “cleaning” with a detergent (surfactant) to remove organic and inorganic soiling from surfaces, followed by “disinfection” to kill microorganisms. There are two options for decontamination:

  • 2-step protocol (clean then disinfect)
  • 1-step protocol (clean & disinfect), using a 2-in-1 product.

Visible soiling can impede a disinfectant’s ability to kill these microorganisms so it is vital that full decontamination occurs. The prevention of microbial build-up on surfaces could be as simple as ensuring dust and spills are not allowed to accumulate, as they can create an environment conducive to the growth and spread of pathogens. Careful and consistent removal of dust and spills is paramount to preventing potential outbreaks and ensuring a safe healthcare environment.

While routine cleaning practices are essential in the proper decontamination of visibly dirty surfaces, they require special attention. By employing the 5 Principles of Cleaning, correct technique is assured. Wiping from top to bottom; wiping from clean to dirty; wiping in an “S” shaped pattern; avoiding transferring organisms and ensuring the correct contact time are the simple principles to follow to decontaminate visibly dirty surfaces. Follow the manufacturer’s guidance on usage and ensure the most appropriate product is chosen for the task: clean to remove dirt, disinfect to kill pathogens and decontaminate to remove dirt and kill pathogens.


Lydeamore, M. J., Mitchell, B. G., Bucknall, T., Cheng, A. C., Russo, P. L., & Stewardson, A. J. (2022). Burden of five healthcare associated infections in Australia. Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control11(1).

Otter, J., & Galletly, T. (2018). Environmental decontamination 1: what is it and why is it important? Nursing Times, 114(7), 32–34.



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