Quat binding, which is sometimes referred to as “Quat Absorption” is the process by which quaternary ammonia cations are effectively neutralized in a specially formulated cleaning solution. It relates to the potential reduction in an ammonia-based cleaning solution’s germ-killing efficacy.

This ultimately means that Quat Binding is a common, chemical issue that, unfortunately, can’t be detected by a human eye. Yet left unchecked it can lead to the gradual growth of disinfectant-resistant germs on surfaces in key food consumption areas such as dining rooms, breakrooms, kitchens, offices, and restrooms.

Left to its own devices, uncontrolled quat binding can have a serious effect on the general health and safety of employees who work at foodservice stations, as well as the people they serve. To help prevent this from becoming an issue at your establishment or company cafeteria, we put together the following primer.

What Is a Quat?

Granted the word “Quat” is not something you hear used a lot in common vernacular. It stands for “Quaternary Ammonium Compounds” which is shorted to “Quats.” This is a group of active ingredients that are typically found in a lot of common cleaning solutions. This includes:

  • Floor cleaners
  • Dishwashing liquids
  • Disinfectant sprays
  • Window cleaners
  • Antimicrobial surface cleansers

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds disinfectants tend to be the preferred cleaning products for many many healthcare and food service facilities. Simply because they are so effective at killing a broad spectrum of illness-causing microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and even enveloped viruses

How Do Quaternary Ammonium Compounds Kill Harmful Pathogens & Bacteria?

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds essentially have positively charged quat cations in the cleaning solution. They are specifically attracted to negatively charged microbial membranes. When they chemically bond to the microorganism’s negatively charged exterior envelope, the quat cations break down the cell wall. This has the net effect of killing it, rather than neutralizing it.

Though it also means that if you have any negatively charged “Anionic” material in the cationic cleaning solution it can prematurely activate the chemical bonding process, which renders the quats useless against bacteria and viruses. This ultimately means that any Quaternary Ammonium Compound cleaning solution has a limited effective lifespan for effectiveness.

What Occurs During Quat Binding?

Quat binding occurs at a chemical level when quat cations bind with negatively charged anionic materials at a point in time before the compound is used to clean a surface. It is even more common with woven cleaning cloths made of cotton, terrycloth, or a similar type of microfiber. This is because many cleaning cloths are naturally anionic, just like microbial envelopes. There are even some. Like dusting cloths, that are deliberately charged to promote ionic bonding to attract dirt, dust, pollen, and hair.

Using these cleaning cloths essentially attracts and binds with the disinfecting quat cations, which reduces the disinfecting potency of the cleaning solution by diluting its concentration level –before the liquid even touches the surface it’s supposed to be disinfecting.

It’s important to note that quat binding can happen rapidly due to the way that quaternary ammonium compounds kill bacteria. Since there’s no way to tell if binding has taken place just by looking at a cleaning solution it’s possible to unknowingly clean with a fluid. In some cases, the cloth could accidentally cause cross-contamination!

How To Reduce The Risk Of Quat Binding

There are a few simple things you can do to reduce the risk of quat binding to ensure the maximum potency of your ammonia-based cleaning solution. This starts with things like:

Using Disposable Cloths

Disposable cleaning cloths don’t have the same negative inherent charge that you find with terrycloth and microfiber dust rags. This means that they don’t bind with quat cations as woven cleaning rags do. It ultimately makes them the preferred choice for disinfecting procedures.

Don’t Place Cleaning Rags In Buckets

Leaving cleaning rags in buckets of cleaning solution is one of the primary causes of quat binding. If the positively charged cleaning solution isn’t left exposed to the negatively charged cleaning cloth, they won’t have the opportunity to bond. Ideally, you want to spray the solution onto the surface that needs cleaning & disinfecting.

Increase The Cleanser Concentration

Mixing the cleaning solution with a higher concentration helps ensure its effectiveness as a disinfectant and reduces the impact of accidental quat binding. Though take any and all safety measures when doing so. Making sure to wear safety equipment such as rubber gloves and a mask is a good way to avoid exposure to these highly concentrated chemicals while mixing them and applying them to surfaces.

Regularly Change Cleaning Solution

Impurities and cross-contamination in cleaning solutions can reduce the effectiveness of quat cations. This is especially an issue for mop buckets. So take precautions to minimize quat absorption, it can still occur over time. It’s also a good idea to extract liquid mixes to remove dirt and germs from rags and mop heads. If you are working with open containers of disinfectants, make it a point to dispose of the old cleaning solution periodically. Then clean the mop bucket thoroughly and mix a fresh new batch. Don’t reuse buckets of mop water or disinfectant that have been sitting out overnight.

Using Quat Test Strips

It is possible to possible quat absorption levels in a mixed cleaning solution by using special quat test strips. With a simple dip and a little patient, these formulated strips make it easy to check the quat concentration in containers of cleaning chemicals. Should one of the quat test strips reveal reduced concentration or effectiveness, then that solution should be discarded and replaced with a fresh new batch. Quat test strips are relatively inexpensive and represent the most precise method to evaluate and the concentration of cleaning solutions you are using. Many health institutions use them as part of their standard operating procedures.


While the consequences of undetected quat binding can be serious, they are fortunately easy to prevent. Most professional cleaning technicians invest a substantial portion of their budget into high-quality, professional-grade cleaning supplies and then ensure that all employees are trained to perform sanitation procedures. This provides you with the best return for your investment while helping to promote a safe, clean environment for employees, guests, and patients.