The right way to clean and disinfect household surfaces

The right way to clean and disinfect household surfaces

By this point in the coronavirus pandemic, most of us know how to properly wash our hands – wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry – but we may be less clear on the proper way to sanitise the various surfaces in our home. And like many aspects of our current situation, there is a lot of misinformation and hype about which areas of our home need vigilant attention. To get the hard facts on what to worry about at home, and what not to, I turned to three experts.

To begin, we need to understand that most of us will not contract COVID-19 by staying at home. Yale Medicine Infectious Disease Specialist Joseph Vinetz said, “We have no evidence whatsoever that people can get this virus at home. Period.”

Unless, of course, somebody who has been exposed enters your house and coughs, sneezes or is in close proximity to you for more than 15 minutes. The real risk of contracting the disease is going out in public.

Vinetz said that people need to think logically; if you are quarantined at home and no one in your house is infected or showing symptoms, then regular good household hygiene should be sufficient.

Good household hygiene means cleaning and disinfecting the same areas you tackle in normal times. Senior Vice President Brian Sansoni at the American Cleaning Institute said to pay attention to food preparation surfaces and other high-touch surfaces, including light switches, faucets, remote controls, doorknobs, refrigerator door and microwave handles, and your computer keyboard.

Sansoni echoes Vinetz’s advice: “You don’t need to panic-clean. Smart, targetted hygiene throughout the day and week is the best way to go.”

Before disinfecting, remove any visible dirt and grime; this will help the disinfectant do its job. Vinetz and Sansoni recommend using tried-and-true disinfectants such as bleach (sodium hypochlorite), hydrogen peroxide (hydrogen peroxide expires six months after opening but can last up to three years unopened), grain alcohol (ethanol, found in beverages), and rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol.

If you purchase any over-over-the-counter products that say “disinfectant” on the label, Sansoni said, they are required to meet government specifications. But to be sure the product has met all government requirements for effectiveness, look for an EPA Registration Number on the label. He also said you must follow the product label instructions exactly for the disinfectant to be effective. Vinetz said to look for any product that has an alcohol content of 60 per cent or higher.

When using any type of disinfectant, both Vinetz and Sansoni emphasise the importance of waiting 30 seconds to several minutes (check the label for timing) for the product to effectively kill a germ or virus.

Vinetz also said it’s a myth that wiping surfaces in circles spreads the virus around; no matter how you apply a disinfectant – spraying or wiping – as long as you wait for the area to dry, the germs will be killed.

Sansoni said bleach is one of the most economical disinfecting agents. He said to create a bleach/water solution per the label instructions, or follow the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended recipe of a third-cup bleach per gallon of water or four teaspoons bleach per quart of water. But when using bleach, Sansoni and Vinetz stress one thing: Never mix bleach and ammonia together, as it creates a dangerous and potentially deadly chlorine gas.

Chair of the Yale University Chemistry Department Kurt Zilm cautioned against mixing any products together because the outcome could be dangerous (or one product could simply neutralise another, causing it to be ineffective).

For hard, durable surfaces that are meant to be chemically resistant, such as metals, granite or tile, use any disinfectant you have on hand. For porous surfaces including marble, consult the surface manufacturers’ recommendations for the best ways to clean them to avoid damage.

Don’t use any cleaners that are acidic on a porous material; it will ruin the surface. And last, if disinfecting any surfaces that come into contact with food (like counters or cutting boards), rinse them with water after the disinfectant dries.

Zilm said that just about any disinfectant and cleaner is safe to use on glass because glass is chemically inert. “But,” he cautioned, “you need to be careful particularly with other clear plastic materials like polycarbonate and Plexiglass, because a lot of cleaners can cloud those by breaking up their surfaces.” In those cases, use a specially formulated product (check with the manufacturer) or use soap and water, which Vinetz and Zilm said, in most cases, will render the virus less effective or kill it.

When you bring mail or boxes into your house, washing your hands after handling is sufficient, but Vinetz said you should spray the outside of reusable shopping and grocery bags with a disinfectant, because they have been in a highly public place.

And when it comes to protecting yourself and your family, Vinetz said to ditch the gloves. “Unless you are wearing gloves to protect your hands from drying and cracking while washing the dishes, then you should forget them. They are harmful, because they will just give you a false sense of protection.” Better to just wash your hands and not touch your face.— Source: Elizabeth Mayhew / THE WASHINGTON POST

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