It's time for spring cleaning. With COVID-19, we're also thinking about disinfecting the home. The good news is that coronavirus is easily destroyed by most disinfectants. But what is the best "disinfectant"—and what is not (e.g., vinegar)? Here are some facts to dispel the confusion—plus helpful tips on cleaning.
Much of the COVID-19 “information” making the rounds seems abstract and confusing. How much do we really need to disinfect and how? Let's first review what we mean by "disinfecting."
What Is Disinfecting?
Did you know? There are actually different levels of cleaning defined by the CDC. It's all about the level of germs and microbial organisms left behind.
Cleaning: Removing visible debris, dirt, and dust. You may or may not kill bacteria.
Sanitizing: Reducing, not killing, the number and growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. We should regularly sanitize food preparation areas, doorknobs, light switches, computer services, mobile phones, faucets, stair rails, and bed linens.
Disinfecting: Killing viruses and germs and microscopic organisms. Stopping the spread of infectious microbes. We don't always need a disinfectant. Overusing disinfectant products can create resistant microbes. However, we DO need a disinfectant when there is someone ill in the house or someone has a compromised immune system.
Tip: For both sanitizing and disinfecting, all cleaners (including wipes) must remain on a surface for 4 to 10 minutes to effectively kill germs and bacteria. A quick wipe is NOT enough.
Disinfecting Your House
Since we're dealing with COVID-19, let's talk about disinfecting. What we know right now:
COVID-19 can remain on hard surfaces for days.
Disinfect all hard surfaces.
Use only EPA-approved disinfecting agents.
When disinfecting, wear disposable gloves and discard them after use.
Do you really need to disinfect all of your counters and tabletops, bedside tables, appliances, door handles, and faucets?
Maybe not, as long as nobody in the household is sick or feeling sick, and as long as no one has come into the house or left the house for work, shopping, or errands and returned. Consider setting up an outdoor hand-washing station (bucket of water, soap, paper towels or hand towels) for household members returning.
If someone does show symptoms, clean the surfaces several times a day with a product that kills viruses.
Which Products Kill Viruses?
The encouraging news is that coronaviruses are some of the easiest types of viruses to kill. They are not hardy and are easily destroyed by good disinfecting products. According to the EPA, disinfectants break a protective coating around the coronavirus so that it can't spread to another cell.
Soap and water
Bleach [Wear gloves! Use 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach in 1 gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach in 1 quart of water.]
Isopropyl alcohol (Don't dilute.)
Hydrogen peroxide (Don't dilute.)
Of course, if you don't use the products correctly, you defeat the entire purpose. Consult this detailed information site developed by Consumer Reports. It tells you when and how to disinfect, which products to use, and, importantly, which products won’t work. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all disinfection products.
Important!Don't mix common household disinfectants. The following combinations may create toxic vapors that can damage organs, and cause nerve damage, breathing difficulties and/or throat burns.
Bleach and vinegar
Windex and vinegar
Bleach and ammonia
Bleach and rubbing alcohol
Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, bleach, or ammonia
Bleach and toilet bowl cleaner
Check labels on all cleaning products to avoid accidental mixing. Some products may contain more than one ingredient.
Best practice: When disinfecting, even though you may prefer different products for difference cleaning jobs, never mix them. Stick with a single product for each cleaning job.
Which Products Do Not Kill Coronavirus?
Here are a few products that some folks think help but in reality do very little:
White distilled vinegar. We all know that vinegar has many wonderful household uses, but it's not a disinfectant that kills coronavirus.