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Germs - Bacteria and Viruses – What’s the Difference when Cleaning?

August 30th, 2021 | 7 min. read

Germs - Bacteria and Viruses – What’s the Difference when Cleaning?

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Most of us associate the bathroom with being the epitome of filth.

But did you know that some of the surfaces and items we encounter at work on a daily basis actually harbour a staggering amount of germs? 

Would you believe an office desk has 400 times more bacteria than a public toilet seat?

That’s totally gross, right?!

But it’s not just your desk that is one of the most unhygienic places in your workplace, - fridge doors, microwaves, taps, and keyboards all fall under this category. Surprised? 

We live in a germy world - that’s life. But what actually is the difference between a germ, bacteria, and virus? 

How can we tell them apart when they are invisible to the naked eye? And how can we make sure they are eliminated during the cleaning process?

Often, we hear the words germs, bacteria, and viruses used interchangeably within conversations and the mainstream news. 

And in a time where these words are being used more so than ever, we need to understand that they all have different meanings and also affect our health differently. 

The team at In-Tec are here to help clarify what germs are and how we kill them in the workplace. Afterall, it's our job to make sure your site is left clean and your employees and clients are safe. 

This article will put germs, bacteria, and viruses under the microscope to find out what they are and how they differ.

We will also let you know how crucial it is for a good commercial cleaner to remove and kill germs in the workplace. 

What are germs/microbes and what do they do?

To start out, we’re going to get pretty nerdy. We need to get into the science of germs, bacteria, and viruses before we explain how to kill them. 

So let’s get into all the details.

What are germs?

Germs are extremely small microorganisms that can cause illness or disease in humans. Healthcare professionals also classify germs as microbes. A pathogen is a microbe that has the potential to cause disease – we know pathogens as bacteria and viruses.

Germs/microbes typically spread from person to person through the air via sneezing or coughing, or through bodily fluids such as sweat or saliva. Once the germs/microbes enter a body, they draw their energy from the host and often harm the body’s healthy cells and produce proteins known as toxins. Now, these toxins are what we know to be the annoying and frustrating symptoms that you tend to get with the common cold or flu, such as sniffles and coughing. However, toxins can also cause high fever, low blood pressure, and possibly life-threatening illness.

Keep in mind that not all germs are bad guys. In fact, the human body is home to approximately 100 trillion good bacteria. These good bacteria help produce vitamins, absorb nutrients, and help our bodies to digest food.

Now let's talk about the two most common types of germs/microbes - bacteria and viruses.

What are they and what do they do?

And how can we tell the difference between them? 

Biologically, the main difference between a virus and bacteria is that a virus is non-living and requires a host to survive, whilst bacteria are free-living cells that can survive inside or outside a body. Bacteria are also bigger than viruses and far more complex. 

What are bacteria?

Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can live and duplicate in many different environments such as water, soil, and the human body - they can survive in extreme conditions. They are very diverse and have a variety of structural features.

There are three types of bacteria shapes:

  • Spherical (Coccus) – shaped like a ball. An example of this type of bacteria is the streptococcus group which causes strep throat.
  • Rod (Bacilli) – cylindrical or rod shaped. An example of this bacteria is Bacillus Anthracis which causes anthrax. This bacteria also causes food poisoning.
  • Helical (Spirilla) – spiral shaped bacteria. If their coil is tight, they are called spirochetes, An example of this type of bacteria is lyme disease.

Unlike viruses, there are good and bad bacteria and the bad bacteria can be treated by antibiotics. 

The bad bacteria that can cause infections in humans is what is known as pathogenic bacteria.

Disease-causing bacteria produce toxins (powerful chemicals) that can damage cells and tissues, weaken immune systems, and cause illness. Some common infections caused by bacteria include:

  •     Food poisoning
  •     Ear infections
  •     Urinary tract infections
  •     Strep throat
  •     Tuberculosis 

If the human body is exposed to bad bacteria, the immune system will attack them. This reaction to the bad bacteria (the body does not recognise it as helpful) can lead to symptoms such as inflammation and swelling that can occur in an infected wound.

So, we just need to remember that there are good and bad bacteria, and that we need to treat them differently. Good bacteria are helpful for our gut – they keep the digestive system working and block harmful bacteria from moving in, whilst bad bacteria can cause infections. 

What are viruses?

Did you know that the common cold or flu, which I’m sure we have all had before, is a type of virus?

A virus needs a host to live. Without this, it can’t accomplish what it needs to – and what is this exactly? 

A virus’s main purpose is to replicate. 

Viruses replicate when there is a change or mutation to the virus's genes. This is because RNA viruses, such as COVID-19, change and evolve constantly.

For instance, since COVID-19 was first detected in China, multiple versions of COVID-19 now exist such as the Delta and Alpha variants.

Another example is the flu. This virus changes often, which is why general practitioners recommend that you receive a new flu vaccine every year to keep up to date with the new mutations.

Once the virus enters the human body, it begins to clone itself by taking over the person’s healthy cells. This is why viruses tend to evolve quickly and cannot be treated by antibiotics. They are a parasitic germ that requires a living cell or tissue to grow.

Determining how much harm a virus can do to a human is often called virulence. This is dependent on 4 things:

  • Overall, how much it harms an infected person
  • How well it avoids the bodies defence mechanism
  • How well it replicates itself
  • How well it spread to other people 

Because viruses are the smallest germ, they can be easily passed on to different people through coughing or sneezing which is why we tend to get others sick when we contract a virus.

Though viruses can be as simple as the cold or flu, they can also be serious diseases such as COVID-19, chickenpox, or HIV/AIDS to name a few.

What cleaning methods should a cleaner be using to kill germs, bacteria, and viruses?   

So, how does a good commercial cleaner eliminate bacteria and viruses in the workplace?

To reduce or eliminate the risk of getting sick, good commercial cleaners should be regularly cleaning and disinfecting high touch points within workplaces. High touchpoints (HTP) are areas that have the most frequent contact with hands.

This can include (but is not limited to): 

  •     Door handles
  •     Light switches 
  •     Elevator buttons
  •     Soap and towel dispensers
  •     Toilet seats and lids
  •     Workplace equipment, e.g., printers, photocopiers 

Good commercial cleaning companies should also be using the correct cleaning methods and products to kill germs in the workplace. 

Removing and killing germs requires a 3-step process – cleaning, sanitising, and disinfecting. Good commercial cleaners will use products like Oxivir (hospital-grade disinfectant) that have a fast and effective cleaning performance against germs. This cleaning product can kill COVID-19 in under 1 minute.

If you want to know more about the 3-step process for killing germs, read our article on What is Commercial Deep Cleaning?

If your cleaner is using Glen20 (or a cleaning agent) like this that can be bought in a grocery store, then they may not be killing all bacteria and/or viruses.

Good commercial cleaning companies should be eradicating germs from the workplace via effective procedures to ensure your facility is kept clean, and your employees and clients are kept safe.  

Does your cleaner follow these specific methods when they’re cleaning your site?

So why is it important to know the difference between germs, bacteria, and viruses? 

Germs - bacteria and viruses are everywhere, which is why it is important to understand the specifics of each one. 

Although we may use them interchangeably within conversations, there are actually a number of differences that set them apart from one another. 

  •     Germs are small microorganisms – viruses and bacteria are types of germs
  •     Viruses are non-living and require a host to survive (human body)
  •     Bacteria are free-living and can survive and reproduce on their own

It’s important to remember that there are good and bad germs. Some help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients, whilst others cause our immune systems to weaken.

How germs are treated really matters. Good commercial cleaning companies should be ensuring all germs are removed and killed from a site through correct procedures.

The team at In-Tec has over 28 years of experience in the commercial cleaning industry and is here to answer any questions you may have. Or, maybe you would like to chat with the owner of the company to find out your needs?

If so, schedule a call here.


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