Cleaning, Oh Cleaning

By Diane Robertson

Cleaning, Oh cleaning.  It is something I hate to do but at the same time, something that I am incredibly passionate about.  Huh, passionate about cleaning you ask.  When it comes to animal shelters, there is nothing more important to the animals than the quality of their environment and that starts and ends with proper sanitation.  Poor cleaning protocols or misunderstood procedures often means sick, unhealthy, unhappy animals and the unnecessary spread of disease.

Remember in school when you started learning a new subject?  What is the first thing you had to do?  You learned new words.  You added to your vocabulary; added to your lexicon.  With the subject of cleaning, it is no different.  It is very important that we understand a few key terms so that we can correctly define policies and procedures as well as do a good job cleaning.

Cleaning:  Cleaning is the process of freeing an area from dirt, fecal matter, urine or other organic material.  We generally think of something as clean when it is visibly free from dirt and grime.  It looks “clean.”

Organic MaterialOrganic material is stuff that came from living things.  It can be the living things themselves (plants or animals or dead plants or animals) or their waste products (animal poop, throw up, leaves, dead ants, proteins, etc.).

 WashingWashing is the process of cleaning something by rubbing or dipping it in soap (aka a detergent) and water.  Washing is the process of removing visible dirt, grime and organic material.

DisinfectingDisinfecting is the process of removing or killing germs, typically by using chemical disinfectant for the types of germs that may be present in your environment.  To disinfect properly, you generally must apply a disinfectant to a clean surface.  Many disinfectants do not work or do not work as well when dirt, grime or organic material is present.

SanitizingSanitizing is the process of cleaning and disinfecting an area or item.

SterilizationThe goal of sterilization is to kill ALL germs, microorganisms, spores, etc in an area or on an item.  Sterilization is necessary for surgical areas and surgical instruments as well as some lab procedures requiring a sterile environment.

In an animal shelter, it is necessary to follow strict sanitation procedures to ensure the health of the animals and people who live and work there.  Depending on the area and the situation, sanitation involves first washing an area and then applying a disinfectant.  It may also be necessary to rinse an area with clean water to remove the disinfectant after it has done its work because some disinfectants can be harmful to animals and humans.

What are the signs that your shelter is not following a good sanitation protocol?  You will have sick animals and the transfer of diseases to other animals or people when cleaning protocols are ineffective, cleaning personnel are not educated on proper procedures or procedures are being ignored due to lack of time or resources to get the job done correctly.  You may also see an increase in infections of all types.

So you know that you first clean the floor (sink, cage, door, etc.) with soap and water.  Dawn dishwashing liquid or similar cleaner is great for most jobs.  Do not use a lot of soap.  More soap will not necessarily get things cleaner and you may leave too much residue behind for your disinfectant to work properly.

The next step is to apply a disinfectant and allow it to stay in contact with the surface for a few minutes.  For floors where animals live, it is important that any harmful chemicals are removed or you can poison the animals when it gets it on their feet and then they then lick their feet.  The most common disinfectants found in an animal setting are:

  • Bleach
  • White Vinegar
  • Trifectant
  • KennelSol (Quats)

Do not rely on what the manufacturer claims on the label or elsewhere.

Scientific studies reported on by other sources indicate that Trifectant is your best bet for a commercial solution effective against the most common viruses found in an animal setting (parvo, ringworm, calicivirus, panleukopenia, etc.).  It works best when the surface has first been cleaned and rinsed with clean water.  Follow the instructions on the packaging but typically you want to leave this solution in contact with objects for at least 10 minutes.  You do not have to rinse after using this solution.

Bleach has it place (99.9% effective against viruses) but is toxic to animals and a lot of rinsing is required after using this solution.

White Vinegar (acidic acid) is 90% effective against viruses and is actually good for pets and people when ingested.  Vinegar in the water of your steam cleaner is the healthiest way to disinfect on a regular basis and the most cost effective (See Centers for Disease Control, National Geographic and other sources).

More about cleaning (and specific cleaning protocols for specific diseases) will follow in future blogs.  For now, you have all the basic information you need to get started on what can be a long trial and error process of establishing good cleaning protocols for whatever you may need to clean.

For more information on shelter cleaning here are a couple excellent sources of information:

ASPCA Professional |

Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis |

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