We have a new toilet disinfectant.
It prominently asserts on its plastic bottle that it “kills 99.9% of germs” which, I assume, is supposed to provide users with some reassurance – confidence even – that they are safe from all toilet-lurking nasties that could cause illness or even death if this miracle breakthrough in the never-ending war against bacteria and its filthy relatives is used according to instructions.
This notice is contained within a red cross which, again I presume, is supposed to remind us that it is like, well, the Red Cross which does such marvellous work worldwide. No doubt it is the result of a lot of high-powered customer-focus research by an advertising agency.
Of course, the flip side to this announcement is that the product “allows 0.01% of germs to live” which wouldn’t really endear it to potential consumers.
Now, I am not some sort of hypochondriac but am I right to worry about catching something quite awful when I perch on the porcelain because 0.01% of germs there are alive and kicking?
No doubt we can all worry when Domestos, that all-purpose bleach and cleaner, boldly stated (without any fear of contradiction) that it “kills all germs – DEAD”. Just what something is other than dead after it has been killed apparently never ever bothered the Domestos folks back then but, today, their sturdy defence of their product has been qualified to “Domestos kills germs dead” which is followed by a fine print list of the germs that it does allegedly kill.
Are there new germs that it doesn’t kill? Could there be more than 0.01% of germs that escape the destructive force of today’s Domestos?
There must be lots and lots of new germs around nowadays than when I was a lad because there are germ-killing products now that didn’t exist then. Everything from hand-sanitising tissues to anti-bacterial wipes now on the market allegedly ensure that we have a germ-free house. Those who put their loved ones at risk by not using these products should be ashamed of themselves is the clear message. I must remember to tell my mother to hang her head in shame for only using soap when I was a kiddie – it’s nothing short of a miracle that I survived.
The Senior Brand Manager for Playtex Products Inc, the makers of Wet Ones, Ms Maria Lovera, has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying, “The 99.99% message is more powerful among consumers that ‘antibacterial’ or ‘germ kill’ alone”.
The University of Ottawa (Canada) tested three hand-sanitiser products on a group of 13 year-olds and found that they only killed between 46 per cent and 60 per cent of microbes on their hands despite the 99.99 per cent claim. Microbiologist Jason Tetro who undertook the tests pointed out that there is a vast difference between kids’ dirty hands and laboratory testing which is, he said, “the optimal environment for the hand sanitiser to work” and, of course, this “differs greatly from the real-world setting”.
“Real-world application is completely subject to interpretation and nothing is guaranteed,” said a spokesman for one of the products tested. “Nothing guaranteed”???? But what about the 99.99 per cent strike rate against the nasties claimed by these products?
The Wall Street Journal article cited earlier noted, “To cite a 99.9% fatality rate, manufacturers don’t have to kill 99.9% of all known bugs. Regulations don’t require them to disclose which bugs they exterminate, just that the products are effective against a representative range of microbes. For instance, many products can’t kill ‘clostridium difficile’, a gastrointestinal scourge, or the hepatitis A virus, which inflames the liver. Yet by killing other, more common bugs, they can claim 99.9% effectiveness”.
While this refers to US standards, Australian standards are similar.
And one sneaky little way the manufacturers of products claiming a 99.99 per cent success rate can get around explaining a demonstrable failure of their product is to say that it was because of human error. For example, for many hand washers to work as claimed, you would have to keep scrubbing for the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice or about 20 to 25 seconds.
What product advises you to do this? None as far as I am aware because half of their appeal is that they will wipe out the nasties instantly.
Dr Jean Schoeni who undertakes product testing in the USA says it is “highly likely” that users of cleaning products don’t get the optimal benefit because many need to sit on surfaces to be cleaned for at least ten minutes to attain desired kill rates. Who waits that long?
I’m 99.99% certain that most of us don’t.
Do you use hand sanitising products to get rid of germs? Are you worried about germs? Tell us below.