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Hygiene, Cleaning & Disinfection Glossary of Terms

This glossary provides definitions of a number of important terms associated with cleaning industry and their environmental impacts, including definitions of specific pollutants, technologies, and the key terms related to the cleaning marketplace.
Use the list below to find your glossary term. Each letter corresponds to the first letter of each glossary term.

To skip to any single part of this glossary, just click on one of the letters below.


Abrasives – These materials are used in products such as Cream Cleansers and are used to clean stubborn or resistant marks. They may scratch soft surfaces.
Acid - A material with pH below neutral (7.0). A strong acid may be used for periodic de-scaling whilst weaker acids can be used for regular washroom cleaning in order to prevent water marking and scale build up.
Acrylic - Synthetic materials derived from organic acid. Used in emulsion seals and polishes.
Active - This refers to the strength or concentration of a material, for example neutral washing up liquid type products. The higher the activity, the more concentrated the product.
Active Fibre - See Microfibre
Aerosol - Material dispensed as a fine mist from a pressurised container.
AIDS - Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. A potentially fatal virus affecting the immune system. See HIV
Algae - Various water plants.
Alkaline - A material with pH above neutral (7.0), suitable for degreasing.
Allergy - Unusual sensitivity to a substance or certain foodstuffs.
Altro - A brand name of safety flooring.
Aluminium - A silvery metal often used for kitchen equipment and work surfaces. Aluminium is sensitive to alkaline and acid based products therefore only neutral pH products should be used.
Ambient - Temperature range which is considered to be normal but not extreme, i.e. not too hot or too cold.
Amphoteric - A detergent which contains both anionic and cationic parts in the same molecule.
Anionic - A detergent within molecules carry a negative charge. Anionic detergents are mainly used for cleaning.
Anti-microbial – A partial disinfectant which will inhibit the growth of micro-organisms but is perhaps not as effective as a the types of biocide commonly found in disinfectants.
Antiseptic - An agent which destroys bacteria or prevents their re-growth.
Application - The method of applying a product to a surface.
Aqueous - Water-based.
Aseptic - Free from bacteria.
Asphalt - A black, bituminous floor surface which falls into the porous floor category.
Autoclave - Apparatus for sterilisation by steam.


Bacillus - A class of rod-shaped bacteria some of which can be 'good', some 'bad'. Some live yogurts and Premiere's Freshen Up utilise the 'good' Bacillus bacteria. See Microbial
Bacteria - Microscopic organisms, some of which may cause disease.
Bactericidal - A substance which kills numerous bacteria as qualified by EN standards or BS standards.
Bactericide - A material that kills greater than 99.990% bacterium in 10 minutes when tested in accordance with British Standards Methods or 5 minutes when tested with the new EN Protocol.
Barrier - A block to protect surface eg. barrier cream to protect skin or seal to protect a wooden floor.
Biocide - A chemical that has potential to deactivate a virus or kill micro-organisms / fungi to help reduce the risk of pathogenic infection.
Biodegradable - Products which are naturally broken down in the environment by bacteria.
BICSc - The British Institute of Cleaning Science: an organisation which helps promote good work practise for the cleaning industry.
Bonnet Mops - A circular double-sided mop designed for use with a rotary machine. Bonnet mops for use on hard floors are made from a mixture of white and coloured fibres, for easy identification. Those designed for carpets are white, softer and more absorbent.
Bonnet Mopping - A cleaning process for carpets or hard floors using a standard speed rotary machine fitted with a bonnet mop. A solution of the appropriate detergent is used to pre-soak the bonnet mop which is then wrung out before being used to "buff" the floor or carpet. Alternatively the detergent may be used in a trigger spray or dispensed through a solution tank fitted to the rotary machine.
Botulism - Poisoning due to eating meat or decaying vegetation which has been infected with Bacillus botulinus (Clostridium botulinum).
BPD - Biocidal Products Directive - Adopted in the UK as the Biocidal Products Regulations (BPR) to govern and control the application, environmental and toxicological impacts of biocidal intermediates and active formulations.
Buffable Polish - These polishes have a high content of synthetic wax and need to be buffed regularly to improve the gloss.
Build-up - Accumulation of varying substances such as dirt, polish or seal.
Burnishing / buffing - With the use of a rotary machine and soft floor pad or brush. Burnishing produces a shine and hardens the polish film, making it more durable. It also removes scuff-marks and improves slip resistance.


Cationic - A detergent in which the molecules carry a positive charge. Cationic detergents are mainly used for disinfection.
Caustic - A high alkaline corrosive material which causes burns to skin and damage to some surfaces. Attackes and emulsifies carbon and grease.
Concentration - The strength of a material is determined by the concentration. The higher the concentrate of the cleaning solution, the more active cleaning materials it contains.
C.H.I.P. - Chemical (Hazard Information) & Packaging Regulations. Legislation which governs information on labelling including warning symbols such as Irritant, Harmful, Corrosive etc. Replaced the previous C.P.L. legislation.
Compatibility - The ability of a coating material and substrate to function together in an acceptable manner or the tolerance of one coating material towards another. For example, in the process of applying a new seal onto an old seal a greater degree of intercoat adhesion is achieved if the two seals are compatible.
C.O.S.H.H. - Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health. Legislation which was introduced in 1988, designed to help prevent exposure to substances which may cause harm.
Cleaning - Restoring the standard to an environment which has been contaminated by dirt - the removal of dirt.
Colour Coding - A system of using different colour equipment in various areas to prevent by cross contamination, the spread of germs and disease.
Cork - Cork is a naturally porous, durable, environmentally friendly flooring material. It is produced from the bark of the cork oak tree which can be stripped every nine years, a truly renewable source. It has millions of tiny air cells per square inch which makes it an excellent insulator and is also sound absorbing. It isn't currently a fashionable flooring type therefore it's not commonly seen.
Corrosive - High alkaline (caustic) or acidic (acid) products which cause burns. An example of such products would include Oven cleaning products as caustics, toilet de-scalers as acids
Curing - The process of becoming hard or solid by cooling or drying. When using seals and polishes, the floor is not ready for traffic until the curing time has been allowed (which would be longer than the drying time).
Crystallisation - See Vitrification


Damp Wet Mopping - See Wet Mop Sweeping
Deodoriser - A chemical capable of removing or minimising unwanted odours.
De-nibbing - The removal by light sanding (using a sanding screen) of any grain lift that may have occurred following application of the first coat of a water based seal to a wooden floor.
Detergent - A cleaning agent which can be water- or solvent-based to aid the cleaning operation. Water-based cleaning detergents should be suitable in hard and soft water and in hot or cold solutions.
Diamond grinding - A method to repair or restore non-porous floors such as marble, terrazzo, granite etc. Generally carried out as a wet procedure using a rotary grinding machine and appropriate grinding discs.
Dilution - Many cleaning chemicals are designed to be mixed with water at varying amounts for different operations. It is important to use the correct dilution rate for the operation being undertaken to achieve best results, aid maximum cost efficiency and minimise potential product hazard.
Disinfectant - Substance designed to kill various viruses, bacteria or fungi.
Doodlebug - See Edging tool
Double Solution Mopping - A periodic maintenance technique for heavily soiled areas. Wet mopping loosens and removes dirt which has settled on the floor and is wrung off into a separate bucket. The solution is used in a stronger mix hence the rinsing operation must be undertaken, again wringing the mop out into a separate bucket.
Dri-Bright - These are polishes which dry to a high shine. They are generally called metallised emulsions.
Drying Times - These times will vary depending on the type of seal or polish being applied. Note that the necessary drying time before applying another coat of seal/polish (‘touch dry’) is shorter than the drying time needed before the area can be put back into use (‘fully cured’).
Dry Mop Sweeping - A dry mopping technique using a dust mop sweeper. This will remove light debris and control dust levels.
Dusting - This refers to an unsealed concrete floor when the upper surface starts to break up. The dust from the floor makes cleaning more difficult, not only for the floor itself but also for the surrounding areas. It may cause adhesion problems for floor dressings.


Edging tool - A rectangular instrument which was traditionally used for manually stripping / scrubbing / polishing edges and corners of floors which couldn't be reached using a large rotary machine. The developments of small scrubbing machines such as the Premiere CW150 now provide a mechanical alternative to an edging tool.
Efficacy - A test undertaken to establish the efficiency of a product against specified micro-organisms under stipulated challenged conditions, reference EN or BS Standards Tests. See Bactericide
EH40 - A list of substances deemed potentially hazardous and detrimental to health, requiring some form of health surveillance.
Emulsifier - A wetting agent, detergent or surfactant designed to make water ‘wetter’ (see Wetting Agent) enabling the detergent to get into soilage and remove it faster.
Encaustic tile - A floor tile dating around Victorian times. Found in various coloured patterns and styles in houses, churches and buildings of that era.
Emulsion - Milky solution where one liquid is in suspension with another. Some seals and water-based polishes fall into this category.
Enzymes - A group of complex proteins produced by living cells. Some enzymes enhance cleaning ability, such as in clothes washing powder/liquid.
Epoxy resin - A synthetic resin made essentially from petrol derivatives.
Etching - This method is used to produce small holes or cavities in a surface. Acid etching is commonly used on concrete surfaces to provide a 'key' for new seal or floor paints, ie giving the new material something to grip.


Film - Thin layer of seal or polish.
Flammable (Warning Symbol) - Liquid substances and preparations with a low flash point.
Flash Point - Temperature at which a flammable gaseous form of an organic solvent will ignite.
Foot & Mouth - Highly contagious disease which affects cloven hoofed animals.
Friction - Resistance created when sliding one surface over another. Commonly created whilst using a rotary burnishing machine.
Fungi – A group of micro-organisms which includes mushrooms, yeasts, mildew and moulds.
Fungicide - A substance which kills fungi.


Galvanised - Metal or something made of metal which is covered with a thin layer of zinc to reduce corrosion. The coating results in a difference in appearance. This is a finish often seen on mopping trolleys.
Gloss - The reflective shine produced by seals, polishes and burnishing or a culmination of the three.
Grain lift - A problem that can occur as a consequence of wood fibres swelling due to absorption of water, usually associated with water based seals (see de-nibbing for method to rectify). Using a fine grit (120 grit) for the final sanding will help to prevent grain lift.
Grain raising - See Grain lift
Granite - Hard crystalline igneous rock which may be used as a non-porous floor.
Gram Negative Bacteria - Bacteria which are not coloured by the stain invented by the bacteriologist Gram.
Gram Positive Bacteria - Bacteria which are coloured by the stain invented by the bacteriologist Gram.
Granolithic - A pre-finished reinforced concrete floor surface.


Harmful (Warning Symbol) - Substances and preparations which may cause death or acute or chronic damage to health when inhaled, swallowed or absorbed via the skin.
Hepatitis - Inflammation of the liver which can be caused by at least five different viruses - commonly referred to as HBV.
HIV - Human Immunodeficiency Virus – a virus which attacks the human immune system, leading to AIDS. Though not technically accurate, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. See AIDS
Hygiene - Study concerned with health and cleanliness for initial well-being.
Hypo-allergenic - Producing little or no allergic reaction.


Indicator Paper – (Also referred to as pH paper), Paper which changes colour in contact with acid or alkaline solutions. May be used in the cleaning industry to check the neutrality of a floor after stripping and rinsing, prior to the application of an emulsion polish.
Instalok - 3M brand name for the replaceable surface of a rotary machine drive board onto which floor pads can be attached.
Intercoat Adhesion - The bonding together of two or more coats of seal, polish etc. which occurs during the drying times but would not continue beyond the curing time.
Irritant (Warning Symbol) - Non-corrosive substances and preparations which, through immediate, prolonged or repeated contact with the skin or mucous membrane, may cause inflammation.
ISO (International Standards Organisation) - ISO primarily involves the setting up of a quality management system that will ensure customer satisfaction, maximise product quality and promote a commitment to continuous improvement.


Keying - Preparing a surface, usually by light sanding, for re-application of seal or paint (see sanding screens).


Lacquer - A solution of film-forming substances in volatile solvents. The solvent evaporates, leaving the original film-forming substances as a thin film on the surface. Solvent-based floor seals are sometimes referred to as a lacquer.
Levelling Agent - Substance which enables a seal or polish to spread evenly across a floor surface when drying.
Legionella - Potentially fatal bacterial infection with symptoms similar to pneumonia.
Linoleum - Floor covering made from renewable resources which falls into the semi-porous category.
Liquid Wax - Natural and synthetic traditional waxes combined with solvent to ease application. In cold temperatures, liquid wax may need warming by immersing the container in hot water.
L.T.E.L. - Long Term Exposure Limit. See C.O.S.H.H.
Lysteria - Food poisoning bacteria.


Machine Bloom - Clouding of the polish film caused by using under-diluted chemical, the wrong pad or brush or a culmination.
Marble - A hard limestone which may be used as a non-porous floor.
Marmoleum - Linoleum flooring brand name made by a company called Forbo Nairn.
Microbial - Contains "friendly microbes" that support the cleaning task (as in Freeflow or Freshen-up).
Microfibre - Cloths and mops made from a blend of polyester and polyamide which can be used with or without cleaning chemicals for a variety of purposes e.g. dusting, cleaning, washing etc.
Micro Sponges (Dri - Release) - These can be used as a quick and effective dry method of carpet cleaning. Millions of micro sponges, which are impregnated with detergent, absorb dirt when agitated into the carpet fibre; the dirt is then trapped within the sponges until vacuumed away using a conventional vacuum cleaner.
Mildew - Type of fungus akin to mould. See Fungi
Miscible - Able to be mixed.
Mop Streaking - marks left on the floor when chemical is used too strong and not rinsed off, or when dirty solution is not changed regularly enough.
Mould - Numerous small fungi. Commonly found in moist warm areas such bathrooms and shower areas as well as certain foodstuffs.
MRSA - Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Pencillin-resistant strain of staphylococcus becoming more common in hospital type environments.


Non-ionic Detergent - A detergent in which the molecules do not carry a charge. See anionic, cationic and amphoteric.
Non-Porous Floors - Surfaces impervious to dirt, moisture and liquids.
Nylon web pads (floor maintenance pads) - Circular pads that are available in different sizes to fit all makes of rotary machines. They are manufactured in different grades to fulfil different cleaning tasks - coarse for stripping, medium for scrubbing and fine for buffing. The general rule is the darker the colour, the coarser the pad - black for stripping through to white for polishing.


Oleo Resinous - A penetrating seal based on a dispersion of tung oil in white spirit. Suitable for unsealed wood, cork, granwood, magnesite and concrete floors.
One-pot Seal - A ready-to-use seal which does not require extra mixing or setting.
OPL - On Premises Laundry - A chemical dispensing system for use in commercial laundries.


Pathogen - Any organism that can cause disease.
Penetrating seal - A seal which will penetrate in to the surface on which it is applied. Oleo resinous seals are penetrative in contrast to water based seals which are surface seals.
pH - The pH scale ranges from 0 (strong acid) to 14 (strong alkaline) with 7 being neutral. All cleaning products will fall into a number on the pH scale and each number is ten times as strong as the previous.
Phenols - Products containing phenols (carbolic acid) - generally disinfectants.
Plastic Seals - These form a protective synthetic skin on the floor surface.
Polyethylene Wax - Synthetic wax commonly found in some polishes and maintenance products.
Polymer - Liquid plastic found in floor seals and emulsion polishes.
Polyurethane - A polymer formed as a result of a chemical reaction between two types of chemical compounds, an isocyanate and a form of polyester. Polyurethanes are used in floor seals and paints.
Porous Floors - Surfaces with minute cavities or pores allowing absorption or penetration of dirt, moisture and liquids.
Powdering - This normally occurs to emulsion polishes when the floor has not been correctly prepared prior to application of the new polish. It can also happen when harsh nylon floor pads are used.
PVC Floors - Poly Vinyl Chloride floors (vinyl for short) can be found in sheet and tile form. The tiles can be flexible or hard and the hard tiles (e.g. vinyl asbestos) benefit from being slightly warmed when laying. This floor falls into the semi-porous category.


Quarry tiles - These are non-porous tiles made from hard-fired clay. Quarry tiled floors are commonly found in kitchens, toilets and washrooms.
Quats (quaternary ammonium compound) - An abbreviation for a bactericidal active cationic surfactant or detergent. As the molecule has four branches it is known as a Quat.


Rafting - This can occur to a sealed wood block floor which has not been correctly prepared. A crack can appear through the blocks where the seal has glued the blocks together but they are still moving underneath.
Residue - The remains of a cleaning agent which can be left on a surface if not rinsed sufficiently, when used in a strong dilution.
Rivelling - This can best be described as wrinkling. It normally occurs where a seal has been applied too thickly and the surface has dried quicker than the body of the seal, causing the surface to wrinkle.
RPM (Revolutions per minute) - Within the cleaning industry RPM is used to dictate the speed at which the rotary machine operates. Slow / standard speed machines (approx 155rpm) would be used for scrubbing. High speed (approx 300rpm) would be used for buffing. Ultra High Speed (approx 1500rpm) rotary machines are also available. See UHV burnishing
Rotary Machine - A single head machine designed for scrubbing, stripping and buffing etc, with varying speeds.
Rotovac - A high-speed rotary machine with fitted skirt for vacuum assistance.
RTU - Short for ready to use, indicating a product that has been diluted to the correct strength for purpose.


Safety Flooring - Non-slip flooring found commonly in hazard areas such as kitchens, toilets and washrooms.
Salmonella - Food poisoning bacteria.
Sanding - This operation is to remove old seal, scratches and dirt etc before applying new seal, generally used on wooden floors. It’s usually undertaken with a floor sanding machine (drum sander) or multi-disc machine. A light sanding operation can also be undertaken using sanding screens which provide a key (better grip) for new seal either on the wood surface itself or on top of existing seal. For both heavy and light duty sanding a trial area is recommended.
Sanding Screen - Sometimes referred to as Scotch Mesh Discs (3M brand name). These are silicon carbide mesh screens which are available in varying grits and can be used in conjunction with a rotary machine to key the surface of a wooden floor in preparation for seal application.
Sanitisation - American term used in the food and catering industries, it is a process of both cleaning and disinfecting equipment and utensils.
Scarifying Brush - This is used for the removal of various build-ups on surfaces. This can range from seal on wooden surfaces to oil and grease on concrete. There are two types of brushes: light and heavy duty.
Scrim - A cloth which can be used to buff windows during cleaning process (use well wrung out).
Seal - This is a permanent floor dressing which will protect a porous floor from dirt, stains and moisture. They will improve the appearance, ease maintenance and protect the floor. Emulsion polishes are then recommended to further enhance the appearance, ease maintenance and protect the seal.
Septic Tank - Tank which contains sewage to be broken down by anaerobic bacteria. It is important not to expose the tank to chemicals high in quantities of material that may be harmful to the bio-mass.
Shelf Life - This is the pre-determined life expectancy of a product where the storage conditions are acceptable. The shelf life of the majority of products is generally a minimum of two years unless otherwise stated on the Technical Information Sheet.
Single Solution Mopping - A daily maintenance technique for light-medium soiled areas. Wet mopping loosens and removes dirt which has settled on the floor and is wrung off into a separate bucket.
Solid content - A phrase used in reference to the non-volatile solid content of the emulsion floor polish, this indicates the percentage of product remaining on the floor after the drying process. A 34% solids polish will produce a thicker polish film than a polish with 25% solids.
Solvent - A liquid used as a carrying medium for other liquid or soluble materials. Aqueous solvents are water-based, however, the term is mostly used to refer to organic solvents derived from petro chemicals. These are hydro-carbon based and include such materials as paraffin, white spirit, petrol and turps. For example, liquid wax is diluted with white spirit to make the product mobile in use, and some floor seals contain solvent to aid application.
Spot cleaning - The removal of soil or stains from small areas where the whole area may not need to be cleaned. Various methods may be used - wiping, mopping, vacuuming etc.
Spore - Small reproductive organism of some plants, algae and fungi.
Spray Burnishing - A technique involving the use of a rotary machine, soft floor pad or brush and diluted maintenance product to enhance the appearance of a floor. Spray burnishing will clean, harden and improve the shine of a polish film, making it more durable and slip resistant.
Spray cleaning - This is a technique to remove scratches, scuffs etc from a polished floor. It requires the use of a detergent diluted in to a trigger spray bottle and a medium grade floor pad (blue or green) fitted to a rotary machine.
Stale - Broom handle.
Staphylococcus - A gram positive bacteria; a major problem with regard to cross contamination.
S.T.E.L - Short Term Exposure Limit. See C.O.S.H.H.
Steel wool pad - A pad which is used in conjunction with a rotary machine and vitrifying chemical to vitrify stone floors. See Vitrification
Sterile - Unable to breed, totally free from all living organisms.
Surfactant - A wetting agent, detergent or emulsifier designed to make water wetter, enabling the detergent to get into soilage and remove it faster.


Terracotta tiles - These are porous, brick-coloured clay floor tiles which are available in various sizes.
Terrazzo - This is a composite floor made from a cement matrix with stone chips throughout. It provides a tough, hard wearing, non-porous floor type which may be laid as a screed or made in tiles. Commonly seen in supermarkets, airports etc.
Thermoplastic - Plastic floor tiles similar to vinyl but more brittle. The colour will always bleed when scrubbed or stripped but the colour is restored on re-application of polish. This type of floor falls into the semi-porous category.
Toxic (Warning Symbol) - Substances and preparations which in low quantities cause death or acute or chronic damage to health when inhaled, swallowed or absorbed via the skin.


UHV burnishing - This is a method of polish maintenance using an ultra high speed machine capable of achieving approximately 1500rpm. This produces a very hard wearing, slip and scuff resistant finish to the polish in a very short space of time.


Verruca - Type of wart, particularly on feet.
Vinyl - See PVC
Virus - This is a type of microscopic organisam that causes diseases in both plants and animals. Viruses are generally smaller than bacteria and were originally distinguished from them because viruses could pass through filters. 
Virucidal - Substance which kills viruses.
Viscosity - This indicates the thickness of a product. The thicker the liquid the more viscous it is.
Vitrification - A process used for treating stone floors such as marble, terrazzo and granite. A special vitrification chemical is used in combination with a steel wool pad and a heavy rotary machine to create a bright, hard-wearing durable surface to the floor.


Wax - There are two types of wax used in the cleaning industry: traditional solvent wax and synthetic wax found commonly as a component in water-based emulsion polishes.
WEL - Workplace Exposure Limits - See C.O.S.H.H.
Wetting Agent - This is used to make water "wetter" by reducing the surface tension. This causes water droplets to spread out more across a surface and to ‘stick’ to dirt, making it easier to remove.
Wet Mop Sweeping - Also called damp mopping. This is a routine maintenance technique using a well wrung out mop for lightly soiled areas and for spot mopping.
Wet Pick-Up Machine - This machine removes solution after scrubbing and stripping, greatly reducing time and labour. It can also be used in conjunction with single and double solution mopping.
White Spirit - Solvent used mainly with traditional waxes, but also used for diluting paints etc and for the removal of some oils and greases from certain surfaces.
WoolSafe – Carpets made from wool can be damaged by cleaning products more easily than those made from artificial fibres. The WoolSafe logo signifies that a product has been independently tested and accredited as safe to use on wool carpets.