Cleaning and Disinfecting for COVID-19

By now we all know that to keep ourselves safe the best thing we can do is wash our hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. What about everything else, though? Since we’re all going to be home for a while, we might as well all learn how to clean and disinfect properly for COVID-19. While no one knows everything there is to know about Coronavirus, current evidence suggests it can live on some surfaces for hours or even up to days. For example: aerosols up to three hours; copper up to four hours; cardboard up to 24 hours; plastic and stainless steel up to two or three days.

These recommendations come from the CDC, so they’re infinitely more reliable than your cousin’s girlfriend’s brother’s best friend’s forward of an email he got from his stepmother’s sister-in-law, or anything you see on Facebook.

First, make sure you’re wearing gloves that are designed to protect your hands from germs. Ideally these would be disposable, but if you need to use reusable gloves make sure you have a dedicated pair ONLY for COVID-19 cleaning purposes. Clean your hands immediately after you remove your gloves! Remember the warm water + at least 20-second rule.

If the surface you need to disinfect is also dirty, wash it with warm soapy water first. Any dirt on a surface will interfere with disinfecting.

As to what you should use to disinfect, there are options (assuming you have things already or the hoarders have not decimated the supply). Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants, and diluted bleach solutions are best. For a bleach solution, the proper ratio is either 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. DO NOT MIX BLEACH WITH ANY OTHER HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS. More is not better. In this case, more can kill you. Also, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area when using a bleach solution (and if it is recommended on any commercial disinfectant you are using).

Obviously those are not practical for clothing or other soft, porous surfaces, especially those that could be harmed by bleach. For carpet, drapes, rugs, etc. wear gloves, remove any visible contamination, and then follow with the appropriate cleaners for the item. If possible, launder items in the warmest water possible and let dry completely. If laundering is not an option, you should use products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims on them.

For clothing, linens, etc. that you would normally launder, again wear gloves! Do not shake your dirty laundry, as that could cause the virus to spread. Launder items according to their instructions, in the warmest water possible, then dry completely. After you remove the dirty laundry from hampers, baskets, etc., they need to be disinfected as well. If possible, line any containers used for dirty laundry with either a washable liner or a disposable one to help keep the virus contained. And of course, when you’re done touching laundry, wash your hands!

Here’s a thing I didn’t know… Obviously you’re supposed to wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds, and if that is not available then use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. But here’s the catch: If your hands are dirty, you MUST wash them with warm soapy water. It makes sense! If a dirty surface cannot be disinfected, then neither can dirty hands.

If you have someone in your home who is sick, make sure you have as little contact as possible with them. Let them eat separately and use either disposable dishes/flatware or handle non-disposable plates and flatware with gloved hands only. Make sure any dishes/utensils used by a sick person are washed immediately in hot soapy water or a dishwasher. Their trash should also have a dedicated container of its own, ideally lined with a disposable bag. Wear gloves when dealing with their trash in any way and consider contacting your local health department for guidelines on trash disposal. If someone in your house has tested positive for COVID-19, it is safe to wash their clothes with those of other household members using the above guidelines. Wash your hands after you remove your gloves!

Whether someone is sick or not, you should clean frequently touched surfaces as frequently as you touch them. Doorknobs, light switches, microwave keypads, toilets, sinks, faucets, drawer handles, computer keyboards, smartphones, TV remotes… anything you and/or your family touches frequently should be wiped down with warm soapy water or cleaned with a bleach wipe (or diluted bleach solution) on a regular basis.

Current knowledge is that COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets, especially when those land on another person. Your first, best line of defense is to wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and keep at least six feet away from other people. But disinfecting your surfaces can’t be a bad idea, especially if someone in your house is sick or you’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.

Be safe. Be well. And as always… WASH YOUR HANDS!