The Sanitizer Everyone Has at Home and Will Never Run Out Of

updated Apr 9, 2020
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A taped-up cardboard box sitting on an orange chair inside a home, waiting to be mailed
Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

Anytime you bring something into your home, you could be bringing potentially harmful pathogens with it. Recent research shows the germs that cause COVID-19 can survive for up to 72 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces (like tables, your kitchen counter, and doorknobs) and up to 24 hours on cardboard (like that Amazon delivery you just ordered). That’s why it’s so important to be careful unloading groceries, and why you should definitely wash your hands after you bring in the mail.

But when disinfecting products are in short supply (or you’re just not sure how to sanitize a porous cardboard box), you have to be creative. Fortunately, we all have access to one of the most effective sanitizers out there—and it’s totally free.

Read all of Apartment Therapy’s disinfecting coverage.

Why Time is an Effective Sanitizer

If you’re able to wait to bring non-essential items into your home—or at least keep them confined to a space away from your living areas—you can be confident the germs are no longer viable, and you won’t have to disinfect it.

For example, if you just received a non-urgent package in a cardboard box, instead of wiping it down with a Clorox wipe, you could just leave it in your entryway or in your garage, wash your hands, and then just not touch it for 24 hours. (Worth noting: The research on the novel coronavirus’ surface stability was conducted in a controlled air drum—giving the virus its best chance at life. In real life, it’s possible the virus remains viable for even less time.)

The same rule holds true for groceries. You could go through the rigamarole of bringing everything in, setting it on your floor, washing your hands, unloading, disinfecting the items, then washing your hands again. Or, you could just wait. If you bought any non-perishable items, you can leave them in the trunk of your vehicle or set them in the garage until you’re confident the germs aren’t lingering on the bags and items.

How to Open Packages When You Need Them Immediately

But what if a package contains essential or perishable items, and you need to open it right away? Dr. Elizabeth Scott, professor of microbiology at Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons University in Boston, recommends opening urgent packages outside the house or on the floor rather than, say, on your counter or kitchen table, since those are surfaces you’re more likely to touch with your hands. (As a rule of thumb, it’s best not to put bags of groceries or pieces of mail on your counter or table, either.) 

Here are the steps Scott encourages to avoid the spread of germs while opening an urgent package:

  1. Open the box carefully to avoid unnecessary touching. If you use a knife or scissors to open the box, always disinfect those afterward to prevent cross contamination. 
  2. Stop to wash or sanitize your hands once the box is open. 
  3. Remove the contents of the box. You likely don’t need to sanitize the contents, since they were probably packed in the box more than three days ago. (There are, of course, exceptions, like if you received an overnight delivery.)
  4. Leave the outer packaging outside for 24 hours if you plan to re-use it, or put it straight into the trash or recycling bin. 
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly. 

And throughout the process, don’t forget the most important rule: Never touch your face!