Why ATP Testing Is Important For Cleanliness

As the world focuses on re-opening from the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are searching for better ways to ensure their premises, visitors, and employees are safe from biological risks like viruses and mold. ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) testing is often used to protect areas against microscopic hazards by identifying the location of hazardous biological material on almost any surface.

Harmful pathogens exist on common touchpoints and other surfaces that may seem clean, but actually pose real health risks. ATP technology can be used to measure and monitor a facility’s cleaning-for-health program, giving employees and customers more peace of mind about the cleanliness of the building they’re visiting. But what exactly is ATP technology, and how is it useful for bolstering your customers’ trust?

What Is ATP Testing?

ATP detection tools are used to detect a molecule called Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. This molecule only exists in living cells and is common in all life where it converts energy that cells need to work. Essentially, if something’s alive, it has ATP, and an ATP test can discover places where bacteria and mold are growing before any evidence is visible to the human eye. This greater visibility makes ATP testing a useful tool for business owners and public institutions that need to guarantee health safety for their employees and customers.

ATP detection is based on triggering and measuring bioluminescence (biologically-created light) with an ATP luminometer. ATP then reacts with the enzyme luciferase — the same chemical that makes lightning bugs bright — and the amount of light it creates is directly proportional to the amount of ATP available. By measuring the light using an ATP bioluminescence toolkit, you can calculate the quantity of biological matter in a particular area.

Benefits of ATP testing for cleanliness

Though techniques to clean and sanitize environments and equipment varies between industries, the need to measure how effective cleaning practices are is universal. Contaminated areas and tools can lead to microbial growth and potentially infect patients or personnel. ATP testing offers accurate and meaningful results that can help a business define and monitor cleaning standards to make sure everything is disinfected and maintained. A few of the benefits ATP testing offers include:

  • Verified Cleaning
    • According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 20% – 40% of Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) are caused by direct transmission via the hands of healthcare personnel or unintentional contact with contaminated surfaces. Creating and following an ATP monitoring system improves cleaning thoroughness and reducing transmission of HAIs. ATP testing can also be used to ensure that cleaning devices and sanitizing agents are effective.
  • Improved Professional Training
    • A published case study concluded that ATP readings can be used to detect variations in cleaning practices to educate housekeepers about the significance of their activities while providing feedback regarding their compliance with recommended techniques and tools.
  • Motivated Team Members
    • Build personal connections with staff and help foster teamwork among cleaning and other professionals. ATP testing can give a framework for individuals in other professions, such as infection prevention and nursing, who want to work beyond their traditional duties to help prevent HAIs.

How does ATP Testing Work?

ATP testing kits are often two distinct parts: one handheld assay reader, and a reagent solution on top of a disposable swab. The user takes off the swab wand from the solution and rubs it around the testing area to gather any unwanted microbes that may be there. The swab is then put back into the solution and the tube and an assay reader is connected to the tube. The majority of readers can display the results, as well as save digital records of the readings they produce.

What are the best places to test with an ATP meter?

To get the most from ATP testing, it’s critical to know the areas that are most likely to be contaminated and out of the way of normal cleaning procedure. Any high-touch surfaces that are often left out of usual cleaning routines are often good sources of unwanted biomatter. With the COVID-19 pandemic, and during flu season, it’s a good idea to review your business premises and look for as many potential risk areas as possible in order to deliberately target these areas. Probable locations for significant ATP test results include:

  • Food surfaces, including kitchen sinks, cutting boards, and silverware
  • Door handles, railings, elevator call buttons, light switches and other common touchpoints
  • Computer peripherals like keyboards, mice, and work surfaces
  • Chair arms and handles, waiting room or coffee shop newspapers


ATP Testing Standards

There are a variety of factors to consider when considering a standard for ATP testing, including the size of the location being tested and the range of potential contaminants. In a medical facility, ATP testing might be part of the standard post-cleaning checks to confirm that all surfaces are well cleaned, but the detection results will be limited to the area that was checked.

If part of a surface was overlooked during cleaning, or contaminants are unevenly distributed, ATP swab results can sometimes create an exaggerated or even under-concerned view. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure protocols that produce the most dependable results possible.

While all ATP luminometers produce results in Relative Light Units (RLU), each brand has its own scale and framework for how each RLU is made, meaning a 100 RLU model from one brand is likely different from a 100 RLU on any other version. So users should always abide by the parameters created by the ATP testing machine’s manufacturer.


ATP Virus Testing

An important exception to ATP testing’s overall effectiveness is with viral testing. Since viruses aren’t technically living cells, they usually don’t have any ATP and don’t show up on the tests for it. This means that ATP tests, by themselves, can’t determine whether any viruses or other microorganisms are present. This includes SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

But ATP testing is a quick, dependable way to confirm whether there’s any biological matter in a particular area, which is a strong indicator of overall cleanliness. As part of a general and comprehensive cleaning strategy, ATP testing offers substantial insight into the prevalence of unwanted contaminants that are too small to be seen by just the human eye.


ATP testing is a necessary step toward understanding the real level of hygiene and cleanliness in almost any environment. Because ATP exists in all living cells, testing for ATP can show unseen varieties of bacteria and soil.

While there are limits to ATP’s efficacy, such as being unable to detect viruses and not being able to tell the user what materials it has detected, ATP testing is still a critical tool for detecting the presence of an environment’s contaminants, reducing contraction rates, and giving facility occupants confidence and peace of mind as they re-occupy buildings across America.

For most colleges, hospitals, gyms, and other commercial environments, ATP testing is the fastest and most cost-effective way to determine the quality of routine cleaning systems while showing problem areas that would otherwise be unknown. ATP tests are easy to use and often deliver results in mere seconds to offer reassurance for business owners, employees, and customers.