COVID-19 has drastically changed our daily lives over the last two months. Part of the new normal is following certain rules to remain healthy, such as:
- Staying at home except for essential trips for groceries, etc.
- Refraining from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitizer if unable to use soap and water
- Remaining 6 feet away from people outside the home
- Wearing a cloth mask in public
Preliminary information on the COVID-19 disease suggests the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes it may remain virulent on surfaces for some time (e.g. 24 hours on cardboard, 3 days on plastic and stainless steel).
As a result, the possibility that we can carry the virus into our homes from trips to the grocery store, or that it can enter through the delivery of goods, means we must take cleaning and disinfecting measures to keep our homes COVID-19-free.
Cleaners, Disinfectants, and Sanitizers
It’s important to know that cleaners, disinfectants, and sanitizers are not the same, and should each be used for different purposes.
Cleaners remove germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. They don’t actually kill germs, but instead lower their numbers. Dirt and organic material can make some disinfectants less effective, so to be safe, clean before disinfecting.
Disinfectants use chemicals to kill germs (bacteria, viruses, mildews, or fungi), without necessarily cleaning dirty surfaces or removing the germs. Disinfectants kills 99.999% of germs on surfaces if allowed to sit for the recommended amount of “dwell time”.
Each disinfectant, along with its labelling, must be registered with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) before the manufacturer can sell and distribute it in the United States.
Sanitizers kill 99.9% of bacteria on a surface. They’re also regulated by the EPA.
Products can often be a combination of disinfectants and sanitizers. Be sure to read the product labels carefully so you know what specific germs that particular product kills. No single disinfectant or sanitizer will kill all microorganisms.
CDC Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends we both clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in our homes every day. This is especially important if an individual or family members are making outside trips, if goods are delivered to the home, or if someone in the household is sick.
High-touch surfaces include:
- Light switches
- Countertops (kitchen and bathroom)
- Hard-backed chairs (seat, back, arms)
- Handles, controls, and fronts of appliances
- Cupboard and drawer knobs, pulls, and fronts
- Electronics (tablets, touch screens, keyboards, mousepads, remote controls, phones, game controllers)
- Sinks (plus faucets and faucet knobs)
- Staircase railings
Each home is different, so choose the surfaces you touch the most.
How to Clean and Disinfect
Hard (Non-Porous) Surfaces
- Wear disposable gloves, and discard after each cleaning. If reusable gloves are used, don’t use them for other purposes. Immediately clean your hands after removing gloves.
- Clean dirty surfaces first with detergent or soap and water before disinfecting.
- The CDC states that for disinfection most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. A list of products that are EPA-approved for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 is available here. The EPA also approved another list from the Center for Biocide Chemistries. Be sure to follow the product manufacturer’s instructions exactly (e.g. concentration, application method, contact time).
- Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol can also be used to disinfect.
- In addition, diluted household bleach solutions can be used on appropriate surfaces that won’t be damaged or discolored. Make sure the bleach is not past its expiration date and is suitable for disinfection. Bleaches labelled for whitening or safe use on colored clothing may not be intended for disinfection.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and allow a contact time of at least 1 minute. Be sure to work in a properly ventilated area, and never mix household bleach with ammonia or other cleaners.
How to Make a Bleach Solution
Mix 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water, or 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water. If you want a bleach disinfectant spray, pour the 4 teaspoons and quart of water into a 1-quart spray bottle, and shake vigorously.
Cell Phones and Tablets
Check out the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfecting your cell phone and tablet. Some brands are posting instructions online on how to disinfect their product for COVID-19.
If disinfecting instructions aren’t available, use an alcohol-based wipe or spray that’s at least 70% alcohol, along with a microfiber or very soft cloth. Don’t use abrasive cleaning and disinfecting materials that can damage the display.
Thoroughly wipe the screen, buttons, and places where dust and pocket lint get trapped. Remove any case on your phone and tablet, clean underneath it, then put it back on and clean the outside.
Laptop displays should be disinfected using 70% isopropyl alcohol and a microfiber cloth or soft towel. Also wipe down the keyboard, trackpad, the exterior, and the place where your wrists rest on the laptop.
Disinfect desktop computer monitors with the 70% alcohol solution and soft cloth. Then wipe the tops, sides, and bottom of the mouse, the keys on the keyboard, the exterior of the keyboard, and the mousepad.
For all other electronic devices (e.g. gaming mice, gamepads, remote controls) where the exterior is mostly plastic, use a disinfectant wipe or 70% isopropyl alcohol solution.
Soft (Porous) Surfaces
For soft porous surfaces such as carpeted floors, rugs, and drapes, clean the surface with either soap and water, or the appropriate cleaners for those materials. Then launder (if possible) at the warmest setting recommended in the washing instructions, and completely dry.
Alternatively, disinfect these items with products that are EPA-approved for use against COVID-19 and are suitable for soft surfaces.
Packages and Mail
You can use an alcohol-based wipe or spray with at least 70% alcohol to disinfect packages and mail.
What About Food and Food Packaging?
According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), “Currently there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”
The FDA further suggests, “If you are concerned about contamination of food or food packaging, wash your hands after handling food packaging, after removing food from the packaging, before you prepare food for eating and before you eat.”
- Disinfect the washing machine and dryer controls and handles with an alcohol-based wipe (at least 70% alcohol) before and after use
- Use the highest temperature setting for washers and dryers in accordance with the item labels
- Dry items completely
- Wash your hands after touching washing machines and dryers, and after handling laundry items
- Wash laundry from a person with COVID-19 or its symptoms together with other people’s items
- Wear disposable gloves and discard them immediately when doing laundry from a sick person. Wash your hands right after removing the gloves. If using reusable gloves, don’t use them for purposes other than the cleaning and disinfection of COVID-19 surfaces
- Don’t shake dirty laundry. This can prevent spreading the virus through the air
- Clean and disinfect laundry hampers with an alcohol-based wipe, spray, or other appropriate products. If possible, use a disposable bag liner or one that can be laundered.
Extra Precautions for Shared Laundry Rooms
- Try to do laundry in off-peak hours
- Keep 6 feet away from other people
- Wear disposable gloves
- Take alcohol-based wipes with you, and wipe down any surfaces before using them
- If using disposable gloves or wipes isn’t possible, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching clothes and surfaces
- If possible, wait somewhere other than the laundry room while clothes are in the machines
- Don’t leave dirty clothes, laundry baskets, or hampers on top of machines or tables
- When done, discard any gloves immediately, and wash hands or use hand sanitizer
Keep safe, keep healthy!
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