Cleaning and Disinfecting

Cleaning and disinfecting are two different but important processes.


Cleaning is a process that uses soap or detergent with water to remove visibly contaminated surfaces (i.e. soil and grease).

Cleaning does not remove or kill microorganisms. It is possible that something may look clean but still spread illness.

To make cleaning as thorough as possible:

  • use hot water and change it often – detergent works best in hot water, but will not work if the water is dirty
  • use a clean cloth and change the cloth at the end of each day. Cloths can be washed with detergent in hot water, boiled, or soaked in a suitable disinfectant and thoroughly dried each day
  • use different cloths for different cleaning jobs – colour code the cloths so there are separate cloths to clean areas where raw food is prepared, where cooked food is served or eaten, and for the bathrooms and the floor.


Disinfection is a process that uses chemicals to remove unseen dirt and kill microorganisms. Disinfectants should be used on surfaces and areas where faeces and mucus are most likely to be found, and where blood or vomit has been spilled.


Disinfectants kill bacteria and viruses or other organisms that can cause illness. To work properly they must be used after the area or item has been thoroughly cleaned with soap or detergent and water.

Disinfectants used on most surfaces and items are chemicals which must be wiped on and left for a time to work. The length of time will depend on the strength of the disinfectant. The disinfectant should be left for as long as possible in areas where viruses and bacteria are most likely to be found (nappy changing areas, toilet and bathrooms, for example).

While there is a range of disinfectants available, many are not very effective. Household bleach is one of the most effective and cheap to use in an early childhood service. Bleaches contain hypochlorite, the chemical which kills bacteria and viruses. However, bleaches such as Janola and White Magic or supermarket bleaches, are sold in different strengths. The strength of the bleach is written on the label. Early childhood services will need a disinfectant that has at least 2% hypochlorite.

Using bleach as a disinfectant

Different strengths of bleach are needed in different situations, depending on the amount of risk. The following tables will help you to decide how much water you should add to bleach to make a disinfectant of just the right strength.

Making 0.5% sodium hypochlorite solution is considered as high risk areas; such areas are those where there have been spills of blood or vomit, or where there are likely to be faeces or body waste.

Making a 0.1% and 0.5% hypochlorite solution

By using bleach containing different concentrations of hypochlorite.

To increase the amount of solution made - double (or triple) the amount of bleach and water added.


Hypochlorite solutions lose strength so prepare enough for each day or store unused dilutions in a cool dark place.

The strength of the bleach will be on the label. This is the undiluted strength, before you mix it with water.

  • A fresh solution of bleach should be prepared each day. It must be protected from light and heat or it will not work well.
  • Read the label to see how it should be used and follow the instructions.
  • Be aware of allergies to bleach and wear gloves if you need to.
  • Use bleach carefully. It cannot be mixed with other chemicals.
  • Where there have been spills of blood or other body fluids the most effective way to disinfect is to leave the bleach on the surface for 30 minutes. If this cannot be done, wear gloves and wipe up the spill using a cloth soaked in bleach solution made for high risk situations, then throw away the cloth. Wipe over the area again using another cloth soaked in the bleach solution, then clean the area with water and detergent.
  • Store bleach safely away from children in a secure, locked cupboard. Try to buy bleach in containers with child resistant caps. If the bleach is to be transferred to another container, transfer information on the label also.
  • Do not allow children to play with empty bleach containers.