In the current era of COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus or more specifically SARS-coV-2, paying attention to proper cleaning techniques is more important than ever. Scientists have discovered the virus can live on surfaces anywhere from a few hours to several days or more, depending on the surface, and what they’ve learned about the effectiveness of different cleaners might surprise you. Here’s a rundown of common products along with what works and what might not.
Sodium hypochlorite was first recognized for its cleaning abilities in the late 1700’s and it is commonly a first line of defense now. The truth is, bleach is very effective against viruses, including every version of coronavirus we’ve seen so far. When using, allow the bleach to soak for 10-15 minutes before wiping.
Be aware, though, that in many cases bleach can do more harm than good. As a caustic substance it can create breathing problems, and its corrosive nature will eat away some materials such as metal. Review the directions on the bottle for the proper bleach-to-water ratio and be sure to open all windows to allow proper ventilation while using.
Prepare a bleach solution by mixing five tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water, or four teaspoons bleach per quart of water.
TSP is another sodium hypochlorite product that can be used on a variety of surfaces. Again, follow manufacturer’s instructions.
Cleaners made for industrial use are available at a retail level too. While many are seen as “overkill” for the coronavirus, if you have access to these cleaners, they are likely to kill the virus. Use caution with fumes, mixing, and application. The EPA provides a continually updated list of approved products here.
During cold and flu season, many people already have Lysol around the house and it is effective against coronavirus too. In fact, many products made by Lysol from wipes to toilet cleaners are on the list.
Hand soap, dishsoap, and laundry soap are effective against both dirt and germs. While cleaning and disinfecting are two different things, soap is the top choice for both. If an item can be washed in the dishwasher or washing machine, take advantage of that.
For hands, use bar soap whenever it is available. Basic household soap will kill germs as well as most commercial cleaners so use liberally. There is some debate regarding the effectiveness of foaming and antibacterial soaps.
Common All-purpose Disinfectants
If you’re wondering if your common household cleaner will do the job, the answer is most likely yes. Whether you have a concentrated favorite or go with the premixed option, follow directions and never mix household cleaners together.
All-natural Homeopathic Products
Vinegar and baking soda certainly have their place in cleaning your home, but they can't disinfect spaces to a medical level. Instead, save them for freshening carpets and cleaning the teapot. Avoid vodka or other liquors as a disinfectant—the alcohol content isn’t high enough. Hydrogen peroxide, however, has proven effective against the rhinovirus, so it is believed to also kill coronavirus.
In addition to using the right products, make sure to implement the proper procedures. The CDC recommends wiping down commonly-used surfaces at least daily, including wood tables and chair backs, sinks, faucets, light switches, remotes, and door knobs. Use disposable gloves while cleaning any space used by someone who is sick, including bed sheets, clothing, towels, etc. Dispose of gloves after disinfecting.
If you are caring for someone who is ill, create a separate space for him or her and while checking on them often, try to limit the number of times you clean the space, therefore reducing your own exposure.
The truth is coronavirus is actually easier to remove from surfaces than rhinovirus or norovirus, so if you have a cleaner claiming effectiveness against those viruses, you’re likely good to go in your fight against COVID-19. If in doubt, go with a soap, sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or bleach base.
To help move airborne droplets, air out the space by opening windows. Wash your hands obsessively. Also, throw out your toothbrush if it has been in a space with an infected person or if you’ve been ill yourself.
Planning for the Future
If you’re stuck at home anyway, it might be a good time to do some DIY that could help protect your family against future cold and flu seasons. For a naturally antimicrobial option, consider cork flooring. You can also install voice controlled devices and hands-free faucets.