What Does Contact Time or Wet Time Really Mean?

During mock surveys I always ask staff what the contact or wet time is for a particular disinfecting wipe. Unless they have changed products recently or are frequently getting different brands due to availability (a result of COVID-19) staff are able to verbalize the correct contact or wet time. The question is, do they know what it means? The answer to the question is NO!

Stated simply, the contact time, also known as the wet time, is the time that a disinfectant needs to stay wet on a surface to ensure efficacy. Contact times for disinfectants range from 15 seconds to ten minutes, the maximum time allowed by the US Environmental Protections Agency (EPA). The contact or wet time is usually found on the front of the container or on the label. This time is determined by the manufacturer based on testing results using EPA approved methods.

As challenging as this process is, due to size of the wipes, the surfaces to be cleaned and at times lengthy required wet times, it is a necessary step to keeping our patients safe and prevent infection. If the wipe is used on too large an area, then insufficient disinfectant may be applied, resulting in a failure to effectively decontaminate the surface.

Allowing the disinfectant to dry before the required contact or wet time renders it ineffective. So, what do you need to do?

• Educate your staff on what a contact or wet time is and show them where to find the information on the disinfecting wipes container. Explain to them why this is so important. You might want to consider a competency for their file.

• Let staff know that if the disinfectant does dry on the surface before the contact time is reached, they need to reapply the disinfectant using a clean wipe to ensure that the contact or wet time is met.

• Monitor this process to ensure that staff are following the steps for disinfection correctly and re-educate as often as needed.

Remember, proper disinfection of surfaces saves lives!


The Importance of Contact Time and Visible Wetness to Ensure Effective Disinfection,
Richard Lowe, PHD, MPH, Lori Strazdas MPH, Jamie Quon BSc, and Mrudula Srikanth MS, Becker’s Clinical Leadership and Infection Control, 2/2018.

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