This New CDC Study Finds that One-Third of U.S. Households Are Cleaning Wrong

updated Jun 17, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, many Americans are more vigilant than ever about cleaning and disinfecting in their homes. But more cleaning doesn’t always mean better cleaning: New evidence from the CDC found many people are also cleaning incorrectly—and engaging in unsafe cleaning behaviors.

Given the uptick in routine disinfecting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently commissioned and sponsored an internet survey of cleaning practices in U.S. households. Of the 502 adults surveyed, 60 percent reported they were cleaning or disinfecting their homes more frequently than previous months. According to the survey, calls to poison centers about disinfectant exposure and reports of adverse health effects also spiked. 

More than a third of participants reported that during the pandemic, they had engaged in unsafe cleaning practices that they didn’t realize were unsafe, like using bleach to sanitize fruits and vegetables, applying disinfectant cleaners directly to bare skin, and even inhaling or ingesting household cleaners. 

The majority of respondents knew to wear eye protection and gloves with certain disinfectants—and to wash their hands afterward—but a high percentage didn’t know how to safely mix bleach solutions. Only 23 percent of participants knew only room temperature water should be used to dilute bleach. Only 35 percent of respondents said bleach shouldn’t be mixed with vinegar, and 58 percent of people knew bleach shouldn’t be mixed with ammonia.  

Obviously, incorrect use of household cleaning products can lead to ineffective cleaning. But more importantly, it can lead to health repercussions. Using bleach incorrectly can create gases that harm the lungs, and applying cleaning products to skin (or ingesting them) can lead to irritation and damage to mucous membranes or alcohol toxicity.

How to Safely Disinfect Household Surfaces 

According to the CDC, isopropyl alcohol and diluted bleach solutions are some of the most effective ways to remove the novel coronavirus from household surfaces. Always follow the below guidelines when you’re cleaning with these products to avoid health repercussions:

  • Always read and follow label instructions on the product
  • Use water at room temperature for bleach dilution, unless otherwise stated on the product label
  • Never mix disinfecting products with other cleaners, like vinegar or ammonia
  • Wear skin protection (like gloves), and potentially eye protection, to prevent splash hazards
  • Make sure the room you’re cleaning is properly ventilated
  • Store and use chemicals (including hand sanitizers) out of the reach of children and pets
  • Never ingest a cleaning product or apply it to skin

And if you’ve been improperly exposed to household cleaners or chemicals, always contact your local poison control center or seek medical care.

You can call the Poison Helpline at 1-800-222-1222 or visit