So, what is rust? Most of us would describe rust as a reddish or yellowish-brown flaky coating on a surface and generally associate it with corrosion of metal surfaces. Technically, it is iron oxide that has formed on iron or steel by oxidation, especially in the presence of moisture. Similar to a cut or abrasion on our skin, once rust has formed there is no protection to the underlying iron. From a surface integrity, this loss of protection can lead to further deterioration, but most importantly, rust cannot be disinfected and provides the perfect habitat to harbour pathogens.
Choosing a disinfectant is a balancing act. Infection Preventionists must balance the need for an effective disinfectant to minimize HAIs with the safety of the product from an occupational health and safety, materials compatibility and environmental impact perspective. Chlorine (bleach) solutions are by nature highly corrosive. They should not be used on surfaces that are prone to rust. Metal surfaces are prone to rust. Metal surfaces are found in virtually every room in a vivarium; counter tops, BSCs,Cages, Kennels, etc….
We talk about building a business case for infection prevention programs, and while for most we talk to the cost savings in terms of reduction of HAIs, we cannot ignore incremental costs. Our business cases may include the justification for increased costs for improved environmental hygiene due to their associated impact on HAIs, however, we cannot forget to consider the incremental costs for replacement or refurbishing of medical devices, equipment, furniture or environmental surfaces.
The “KIS” or “Keep it Simple” principle of one product for everything, while seemingly simplistic, does have unintended consequences. It works if you are only weighing the cost of HAIs, however, if you or your facility has a problem with rust or other visually deteriorating surfaces and are not willing to include replacement costs for surfaces, devices and equipment in your annual budget…really, who wants to talk about spending $25,000 on a hospital bed or $5000 – $12,000 on replacing rusty OR lights as part of the consequences of using a corrosive chemistry everywhere, every day.
Maybe you’ll find the best of both worlds? No rust, no deteriorating surfaces, decreased costs from occupational injury associated with disinfectants AND a significant reduction in HAIs. Now that would be a Win-Win!