Here’s Everything the CDC Wants You to Know About Cleaning Your Home Right Now
Most of the time, my standards for cleanliness follow a very scientific two-step confirmation process of qualitative questioning. In other words, I ask myself: “Can I live with this?” and “Will my friends think I’m gross when they come over?” It’s a system that’s served me well over the years.
With the new coronavirus spreading, I’m definitely reconsidering my home hygiene. And you probably are too. Cleaning to prevent a viral infection looks a bit different than cleaning to impress your in-laws. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have published expert-vetted recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities—hand washing is at the top of the list—and that prevention continues right at home with deliberate cleaning and disinfecting.
You can click over to the CDC website to read it all for yourself, but here’s a condensed version of the health agency’s recommendations for how healthy people should be cleaning their homes right now.
Note: If you suspect that you or someone in your household may be sick, you need to take extra steps and precautions with regards to cleaning and preparing your home. The CDC’s interim guidance for that situation can be found on its website. Precautions include: isolating the sick person in their own room and bathroom, if possible, handling their laundry with gloves, and dedicating a special trash can for their items, among other things.
First: Practice personal hygiene and stay away from potentially sick people.
If you’re more worried about your doorknobs than your close-talking roommate, you might have the wrong priorities. According to the CDC based on what we know so far about the new coronavirus, it spreads person-to-person through close contact, transmitting via respiratory droplets. The CDC hasn’t documented any transmission happening via surfaces contaminated with the virus. Not that it’s impossible to get sick from a germy light switch—it’s just a lot more likely to happen because you were within spitting distance (literally) of a sick person, or shook their hand then touched your face. So priority number one should be washing your hands often (“especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food”) or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol) if soap and water aren’t available.
Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and objects daily.
While person-to-person contact is a top priority, according to the CDC, the coronavirus can remain active on a surface for “hours to days” on “a variety of materials,” so they recommend daily cleaning of high-touch areas at home. The CDC’s examples of “frequently touched surfaces” includes: tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, cabinet handles, hard-backed chairs, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, and sinks, just to give you an idea. If you’re not sure what to disinfect, run through a normal routine in your head. Do you grab your hair dryer every morning? Toothbrush handles? Your house keys? Your iPhone? Keep a mental list and give those surfaces more routine attention for the time being. Most disinfectants do not provide lasting protection—meaning that a disinfected surface only remains un-infected until it it touched again by hands, objects or airborne droplets.
Read more: 4 Things You Need to Know—Right Now—If You Use Disinfecting Wipes to Clean Your Phone
Clean before disinfecting, if the surface is dirty.
Here’s a bit of advice most people usually ignore: Disinfectants don’t work if the surface isn’t clean. Germs can hide inside or below the dirt and organic material on your home’s surfaces, which would make any disinfectant you try to use less effective. The CDC’s official recommendation is to use a detergent and water prior to disinfection “if surfaces are dirty.” You can rely on your eyes and hands to tell you when a surface is dirty, greasy, or grimy. If so, hit your target first with a cleaner—all-purpose cleaner or even just soapy water—before you give it a swipe with your disinfectant. If you have an “antibacterial cleaner” at home, this one-two punch advice still stands: Your preferred solution might contain a detergent and a disinfectant, but it can’t do both at once, so treat visibly dirty surfaces twice.
Read more: The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
Use EPA-registered disinfectants, and always follow the label.
The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a registration of tested disinfectants, so you don’t have to play guessing games about what works or what doesn’t. You can look for an EPA registration number on the label of the product (my Clorox wipes say “EPA Reg. No. 5813-79”), or search the EPA’s database for a product or brand name. On March 3, the EPA produced a fact sheet listing every disinfectant that it expects to be effective against COVID-19 specifically, based on what we know about other similar viruses.
In addition to using the proper disinfectants, the CDC makes a point to remind us all that we really need to be following directions right now. Labels contain important instructions for making sure you’re using the product safely and effectively. Following directions is extra important for disinfectants, which require “contact time” to work properly; the label on your disinfecting solution should include instructions about how long the solution should remain in contact with your surface before being allowed to dry.
You don’t have to rely on commercial disinfectants—bleach and alcohol are OK in some cases.
Clorox wipes are hard to come by these days. Besides EPA-registered disinfectants, the other solutions that the CDC guide recommends for household disinfecting are diluted household bleach solutions, and alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol.
If you’re using bleach: Make sure it’s not expired, follow safety and application instructions on the label, and avoid mixing bleach with anything other than water. The CDC recommends using one of these two ratios for diluting bleach for disinfecting: Mix 5 tablespoons (⅓ cup) bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. (And no, mixing with hot water doesn’t “deactivate” bleach.)
If you’re using alcohol: Make sure your disinfecting solution contains at least 70 percent alcohol (like rubbing alcohol, not vodka). Keep in mind that rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol you buy off the shelf is already diluted with water in a ratio indicated on the label (usually 70 or 90-91 percent alcohol).
Soft surfaces require special care.
This goes back to the universal advice of “read the label,” but you should know that many disinfecting wipes and sprays are only effective when used on non-porous surfaces, like a sealed kitchen counter or semi-gloss painted wood cabinets. If you want to remove and kill germs from soft surfaces, such as carpet, rugs, drapes and upholstery, you need to either launder those surfaces with “the warmest appropriate water setting,” use a steam cleaner, or apply an EPA-approved chemical disinfecting product that indicates it’s suitable for use on fabrics and/or other non-porous surfaces.
Wear gloves when you clean, and wash your hands when you take them off.
As an added precaution, the CDC recommends that you wear gloves while cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and that those gloves should only be used for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces around your home (and not, say, gardening). The CDC also suggests cleaning your hands immediately after gloves are removed.
Be gentle with your laundry, and wash your hands after handling clothes.
The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves if you’re handling laundry from an ill person. But even if everyone in your household is healthy, you can exercise care when doing laundry, especially when washing street clothes, like the jeans you sat in on the subway. Wash your hands and the laundry machine’s handles and knobs after carrying dirty clothes. And avoid shaking dirty laundry, if possible; the CDC says gentle care “will minimize the possibility of dispersing virus through the air.” When doing laundry, use the warmest water possible, and don’t forget to disinfect your clothes hampers along with other surfaces in your home.