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Surface Cleaning and Testing for COVID-19

Surface Cleaning and Testing for COVID-19: What Is The Difference Between ATP and PCR Testing?

Robert J. Carr, P.E., LEP – East-West Engineering, PLLC 8.4.2020
I remember growing up that my mother always kept a very clean house; so clean in fact that friends and neighbors used to say that you could “eat off the floor”. I don’t know if that was really true, and I never tried to eat my dinner off the linoleum, but it has caused me to think of it lately with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. How can you tell if something is “truly” clean?

There are a couple of tests available that can help gauge the cleanliness of a surface. One test measures the bioluminescence of an energy molecule that is in all living things, called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. In the ATP test, a luminometer is used to measure the amount of light created when ATP reacts with luciferase, a natural firefly enzyme. The brighter the light, the more actively growing microorganisms are present in the sample (typically a swab sample from a surface). Because it is quick and relatively easy to use, the ATP test is universally used where clean surfaces are important, such as in food preparation and health care. The ATP test cannot, however, specify which microorganism(s) may be present on a surface, and the ATP test cannot detect viruses such as the SARS-COV2 virus, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

One test that can detect the SARS-COV2 virus is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The PCR test uses DNA or RNA to identify specific pathogenic organisms, including viruses. PCR analysis is required to be performed at accredited, fixed biolaboratories, so samples have to be submitted to an off-site lab. Therefore, the analytical results are not immediately known and can take days to complete. However, if you need to know specifically if COVID-19 is present in your facility, PCR testing is the far better and most viable option available.

As a business or property owner considering surface testing for COVID-19 to identify the presence of COVID-19 or to confirm site cleaning methods are effective for eliminating COVID-19, having a reliable and proven testing method is critical.

Contact Robert Carr at or by phone 860-709-9253.

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