How Soft Water Can Help with Cleaning and Disinfecting Surfaces

How Soft Water Can Help with Cleaning and Disinfecting Surfaces

Most times you can simply tell if a flat surface is clean by looking at it. But can you ensure it is truly clean just by visual inspection?

As water treatment experts, we understand water with contaminants that are not visible to the naked eye are quite often the ones to be most concerned about. Similarly, what lies unseen on household surfaces can be a concern. The water you use to clean your home should be clean and pure.

With concerns of dangerous pathogens like COVID-19 and as we are now in the traditional influenza season, it is especially important that everyone understands how to avoid health risks. Whether you area at home, school, restaurant, or at the store, the surfaces we encounter should be properly cleaned and disinfected.

The Difference between Cleaning and Disinfecting Surfaces

There is a great difference between simply cleaning and disinfecting something. In fact, they are actually two different processes.

The Water Quality & Health Council explains that “Cleaning’ involves using water with detergent or soap to remove dirt and grime. This process does eliminate some (but not all) of the pathogens on surfaces.

“Disinfection” involves eliminating or killing a much higher percentage of germs while slowing the pathogens’ reproduction ability. This is most often accomplished by using household cleaning chemicals such as bleach, disinfectant spray, or other similar products.

Disinfecting a Surface Takes 2 Steps

To effectively disinfect a surface, it needs to be cleaned first. Simply spraying disinfectant on a surface may destroy some germs, but if that surface is still dirty, the grime and dirt may cause the sanitizer to miss bacteria and viruses sticking to the surface beneath it. Additionally, germs beneath or embedded in the dirt often feed on the grime and continue to reproduce.

Clean first, then disinfect using the right soaps and household chemicals to eliminate COVID-19 and other pathogens.

As you clean and disinfect surfaces in your home, it’s vitally important to do so safely. Cleaning products and disinfectants should never be used on or in the human body and you should limit exposure to these coming in contact with your skin. WaterandHealth.org provides good information on cleaning and disinfecting safely.

Cleaning with Soft Water or Hard Water

Hard water can make it more difficult to clean your home than by using soft water. This is because hard water has minerals such as magnesium and calcium that can leave behind a limescale residue, but also decrease the cleanser’s efficiency.  Hard water minerals are like microscopic grains of sand in your water, and when mixed with soap, the grains become sticky, clumping together into globs of coagulated detergent. This is what is commonly known as “soap scum.”

Soap scum adheres to your surfaces, causing the germs to stick to them. Norman Pace, microbiologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder explained to the journal Nature that he was surprised at the number of germs he discovered living in soap scum.

After examining soap scum under a microscope, Pace said, “The sample teemed with bacterial life … Each time you take a shower you are engulfed by an aerosol of bacteria. In most cases, that will not be dangerous. But if you have an unprotected cut, or your immune system is suppressed, it could be a different story.”

Soft water, on the other hand, encourages soapy, sudsy lathering, helping wash cleaning products away completely, so you avoid soap scum buildup altogether. Another benefit of soft water is you will need less soap to get things clean because there are no tiny mineral grains for it to stick to.

Getting the most out of soap during household cleaning could be an important way to protect against pathogens such as COVID-19, influenza, and other viruses.

In a recent MarketWatch article about coronavirus, chemistry professor Palli Thordarson explained that soap has distinct properties which make cleaning with it even better than a disinfectant in some cases.

“Soap dissolves the fat membrane, and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and ‘dies,’ or rather, it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive,” said Thordarson. “Disinfectants, or liquids, wipes, gels, and creams containing alcohol (and soap) have a similar effect but are not as good as regular soap.”

Because soft water maximizes soaps cleaning ability, it very well may be the best way to truly clean home surfaces. But does that mean you shouldn’t use disinfectants? Studies suggest using both soft water cleaning followed by disinfectant may be the best practice.

A research study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology in 2001 examined the effect of different substances and how they interfere with disinfection. The study discovered: “Disinfectants can be seriously affected by the presence of organic matter; for example, iodophor and chlorine disinfectants are ‘notoriously sensitive to organic soil’. Hard water also reduces the effectiveness of disinfectants…”

Dirt, grime and the minerals found in hard water all have negative impacts on both the cleaning and disinfection process. Soft water while cleaning is a more effective way to eliminate surface germs.

High-Iron Water and Bleach

If you are using more bleach lately to help disinfect your home and live in a rural area you may be experiencing MORE stains around your home. Bleach sometimes causes aesthetic problems in high-iron water.

There are two kinds of iron commonly found in water – one you can see in the water as a particle, and one you can’t because it is dissolved (soluble). Both types cause orange stains on bathroom and kitchen surfaces.

Bleach is also a natural oxidizer, meaning if you have iron in your water supply and use bleach products to disinfect surfaces, you may begin seeing rusty-looking stains. However, you can disinfect your home and manage to avoid iron stains with a water filtration system designed to remove iron.

Rather than constantly dealing with stubborn stains, water filtration is a permanent solution to high-iron water issues. Using a Water-Right water conditioner with its patented “Crystal-Right” media can even help provide soft water while filtering out iron simultaneously.

Use the Correct Water for Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home’s Surfaces

By itself, soft water won’t protect you from harmful viruses and bacteria, but it will increase the effectiveness of the cleansers and disinfectants.

It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of all homes in the United States have hard water. If you do not have a water treatment system, or it needs an update, now is the time to consider doing so. In addition to having peace of mind about home cleanliness, soft water is better for your laundry and dishes as well as your hair and skin. To learn if your water quality could be improved, contact Futuramic’s Clean Water Center to request one of our local water treatment experts come to your home for a free, no-obligation water assessment

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