Cleaning Work Surfaces

If battling COVID-19 involves new strategies, doing so in a manufacturing environment demands coordinated brilliance. Manufacturers are adding emergency protocols to protect employees, including the way they clean work surfaces. For many manufacturers involved in critical product cleaning, precision cleaning, and surface preparation, the concern is with removing soils that interfere with coating, assembly, or product performance. The soils might be particles, thin film residue of metalworking fluids, flux residue or fingerprints. Your focus may not have been on biological soils. Today, removing and killing bacteria, fungi, and viruses on work surfaces has become crucial for manufacturers, even those who are not remotely involved in medical device manufacturing, pharmaceutical, or food processing.  Here are a few ideas and strategies to cope with the current situation, protect workers, and maintain quality production. Be brilliant!

Follow the directions!
A higher than recommended concentration of janitorial cleaner or a higher recommended concentration of bleach is not the answer to effective cleaning and sanitizing. At best, adding more wastes the cleaning product. Sometimes higher concentrations are less effective at cleaning. Really powerful cleaners can impact even higher life forms.

The goal of all this added cleaning of work surfaces is to kill viruses, not to damage you or your co-workers.

Don’t mix janitorial cleaners
Here’s one really important example. The sodium hypochlorite in chlorine-based bleach is very effective in removing stains and in killing assorted microscopic critters. So, why not combine a cleaning agent with a chlorine-based bleach? REACTIVITY. The SDS (Safety Data Sheet) for a well-known chlorine bleach indicates that sodium hypochlorite “reacts with other household chemicals such as toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, acids, or products containing ammonia to produce hazardous irritating gases, such as chlorine and other chlorinated compounds.”(1).

Follow the protocol
As we discussed in the most recent “Clean Source,” it’s important to clean before you disinfect. Just as with critical cleaning, cleaning and disinfecting work surfaces means having a process, a plan, a protocol. Learn the “why” behind the protocol – you’ll be more likely to follow the directions. For example, have a look at Sam Morell’s animation of how surfactants work.

Isopropyl Alcohol and “Substitutes”
What does a substitute mean? Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) can remove soils and disinfect.

Some cleaning agents, used for cleaning electronics assemblies, are recommended as substitutes for IPA. Ask yourself: what is the intended purpose of the product? The ingredients in these products are not always divulged on the SDS, in part due to competition-sensitive issues. If ingredients are listed as “proprietary,” you have no idea if the product will kill microscopic creatures. These products can be effective in removing flux residue and other soils associated with hand-soldering or with overhaul and rework. However, as some providers of these products have correctly and helpfully pointed out, this does not mean that they act like IPA for cleaning and/or sanitizing work surfaces.

Employee Safety
In cleaning surfaces, consider the range of aspects of employee safety. Manufacturers have protocols to avoid slips. If the cleaning/sanitizing process is modified, make sure it is done in such a manner that does not increase the risks of slips and falls. If IPA is added to a protocol for cleaning work surfaces, consider flammability issues that may impact when and where you clean. What else is going on in the facility? Are there ignition sources like welding or electrically charged equipment? Even a small concentration of a flammable substance can be flammable (2).

Manufacturing may involve processes that pose hazards to workers and that require specific worker protection. What other personal protective equipment is used? Coordinate processes so that cleaning to destroy the virus does not interfere with performance.

Communicate, Coordinate, Cooperate – Make it work!
The point of all this extra surface cleaning is to continue production while keeping workers safe – changes must not compromise the product. Changes in cleaning processes, including cleaning work surfaces, can have a ripple effect. Consider how changing the way you clean work surfaces might impact the product.

We are living in an unprecedented situation. This provides a fabulous opportunity for quality and regulatory folks to work together and to resolve cleaning issues quickly and effectively. The goal is to keep workers safe and to product high quality product.


  1. SDS, Clorox ® Regular-Bleach, Issuing Date January 5 2015, Revision 1, Revision Date June 12 2015 (Sodium hypochlorite, CAS-no7681-52-9)
  2. B. Kanegsberg, “Fire and Water – acetone, “Clean Source Newsletter, May 2015.
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