What does it mean to sanitise?

What does it mean to sanitise?

This week has been the WEEK OF THE SANITISER. We have sold more Hand and Surface SANITISER in this week than ever before. Not only did the volume of sales take us by suprise, but also the urgency of it all. I suspect it has something to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. I suspect people feel safer after they have sprayed their hands. And having a tiny bottle of sanitiser in your hand bag is reassuring, because you can reach for it whenever you feel like it.

The truth is that sanitiser is a single line of defense, and possibly the weakest one at that. We have had questions about whether we have proof that our SANITISE kills COVID-19. I get that people want to know. We are all trying to stay safe. And a consumer has the right to ask questions before buying a product, especially now when home brews of sanitiser crop up here and there. But the repeated questions made me wonder whether the term ‘santise’ is properly understood. No, we do not have proof that our SANITISE kills COVID-19. COVID-19 is a novel strain of coronavirus and neither alcohol nor any sanitiser has been shown to kill it, simply because the studies have not been done. But the real point here is that a sanitising product by defenition does not kill all microorganisms.

Let’s disentangle sterilise, disinfect and sanitise first. These words are used interchangeably but each actually means something very specific.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sterilise means that you have ‘destroyed or eliminated all forms of microbial life (even spores!) and is carried out in health-care facilities by physical or chemical methods.’ This is a process that generally needs time and perhaps even specialised equipment. Disinfect means to ‘eliminate many or all pathogenic microorganisms, except bacterial spores, on inanimate objects.’ (https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/disinfection/introduction.html ). These two processes are especialy important in hospital settings to prevent the spread of disease.

Sanitise ‘is a chemical process that lessens and even kills germs on surfaces to make them safe for contact’ ( https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-hints-tips/cleaning-organizing/disinfecting-vs-sanitizing.htm ). This is generally what happens in homes when you wipe your counters with bleach. It is not recommended as part of routine cleaning but now and again one wants to sanitise even the home, such as when a member of the family is ill.

Now let us take a closer look at hand sanitisers. They are by definition meant to lessen the amount of bacteria and viruses. Not one sanitiser guarantees to kill all pathogens.

There are important differences between washing hands with soap and water and cleaning them with hand sanitizer. For example, alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t kill ALL types of germs, such as a stomach bug called norovirus, some parasites, and Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhea. Hand sanitizers also may not remove harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and heavy metals like lead. Handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs, pesticides, and metals on hands. Knowing when to clean your hands and which method to use will give you the best chance of preventing sickness.

( https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/hand-sanitizer-factsheet.pdf )

Take home message?

Sanitiser was never meant to save you. Wash your hands often and vigourously. Use sanitiser to ‘fill in the gaps’ and to clean unwashable surfaces such as your phone.

Why our sanitiser does not contain alcohol.

Why our sanitiser does not contain alcohol

Mrs. Martin’s Microbes and More teams with life. You will find no biocidal ingredients in our products. Indeed, we include spores of beneficial, South African microbes to help clean the area where it is used, and to help clean the waste water after it has been discarded.

Responsible, intelligent and safe soap.

We have three reasons for working with the microbes that are so abundant everywhere, instead of against them.

1. The majority of microbes, by far, are our friends.

The old friends hypothesis states that the immune system depends on certain microbes that evolved together with the human organism. Thus their absence may cause abnormal functionality of the immune system, such as increased incidence of allergies and asthma in developed countries. This means that while good hygiene and cleanliness in the home is paramount, killing all microbes is not in your best interest. (https://www.pnas.org/content/114/7/1433) 

2. Antibacterial products are not proven healthy or effective.

The American Food and Drug Administration has cautioned against long term use of antimicrobials for regular personal care because it might be detrimental to health and might not be effective in keeping people healthier than using normal soap and water. (https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/antibacterial-soap-you-can-skip-it-use-plain-soap-and-water). One exception here is possibly when you work in a healthcare setting.

3. We don’t want to help create superbugs.

Indiscriminate use of antimicrobials may lead to microbes developing antimicrobial resistance, much like misuse of antibiotics creates superbugs. Antibiotics fight germs (bacteria and fungi). But germs fight back and find new ways to survive. Their defense strategies are called resistance mechanisms. Bacteria develop resistance mechanisms by using instructions provided by their DNA. (https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about/how-resistance-happens.html)

But Covid-19…

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 much has been said about how you can protect yourself against the virus.

Proper washing of hands with soap and water is still advocated by all international bodies as your best line of defense.

Wash at least 20 seconds under running water

Dr Raj Lalloo, our Chief Technoloy Officer and a bioprocess engineer, sums it up like this:

One of the most effective methods for the prevention of disease transmission still remains hand washing, which the WHO recently advised as the primary method for prevention of spread of COVID19. Some current opinions indicate that at the virus particle level, this is more effective than sanitization. Key practical advantages include affordability and accessibility of these products, but one should be careful to ensure that these do not contain the FDA cautionary antimicrobial compounds (commonly traded as antibacterial handwashes). It is best to choose a biodegradable product with no toxic ingredients or negative dermatological effects. A downside to handwashing is that it is not always effective due to human habit (the reluctance to make the effort to wash hands frequently) and practical accessibility to hand washing facilities in public places, schools, malls, areas with limited accessibility to clean water, etc. Another disadvantage is that handwashes cannot be practically used to quickly clean items that we frequently touch, such as keyboards, cell phones, food prep areas, etc.

Dr Raj Lalloo, 2020

Enters the hand sanitiser

Hand sanitizers and surface sanitizers have become a practical product choice. The convenience of being able to clean and sanitize hands and surfaces anywhere at anytime is most appealing and a valuable method of preventing disease transmission. For this reason, sanitizers should be viewed as a complementary option to hand washing, that addresses some of the constraints, when hand washing is not easily possible. Sanitizing products are mainly alcohol based (generally above 60%) and some do contain environmentally damaging ingredients and the FDA cautionary ingredients, so it is wise to check the ingredients regarding the product you purchase. Alcohol sanitizers are mostly effective but also have some disadvantages in that they can dehydrate the skin, cause skin irritation, can enter the bloodstream with frequent use, can be dangerous to the eyes, risky in the hands of children and are not acceptable to certain cultural groups (e.g. Muslims). Alcohol can also damage some types of surfaces, when used as a surface sanitizer. Other limitations include the high VOC (volatile organic carbon), which means they are environmentally damaging and on the prohibited list of ingredients for green certified products.

Dr Raj Lalloo, 2020

So when we developed a hand and surface sanitiser, mostly for use in public places, we decided to use essential oils instead of alcohol.

We chose to not use alcohol to protect the health of our clients and the environment.

This is our first product that does not contain microbes. We used essential oils at concentrations that are most probably biocidal. Preliminary studies have shown that microbes possibly do not develop resistance to essential oils because it does not work on the DNA level. The result is an earth friendly hand and surface sanitiser with tea tree oil, peppermint oil and lemongrass oil. It leaves hands protected but not dried out.