EletiofeHow to Disinfect Everything: Coronavirus Home Cleaning Tips

How to Disinfect Everything: Coronavirus Home Cleaning Tips


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Daily reported cases of Covid-19 are rising in near half the U.S. states and more than 200,000 people in the U.S. and more than a million in the world have died from Covid-19. Nevertheless, people are filtering back into restaurants for indoor dining and into places like museums (at reduced capacity).

Regardless of how much you plan to take advantage of opening shops, bars, restaurants, and parks, you should continue social distancing, using a mask when near others outside your home, and maintaining good cleaning habits. The SARS-CoV-2 virus—the coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19—isn’t going away anytime soon. Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in your home can help lower the chances you or a loved one will contract Covid-19 and lower the chances you might spread it to someone else.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends we all take steps to clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces in our homes. Below, we get into the weeds of how long the virus might last on surfaces, which disinfectants may kill it, and the steps you should take to keep clean.

Updated for October: We’ve updated our guide to reflect the growing scientific consensus that SARS-Cov-2 is less likely to spread by surface contamination than once thought earlier this year. We’ve included revised advice from the USPS regarding mail and packages, touched on the different risks levels of gathering indoors compared to outdoors, adding a link to guidelines for creating a social bubble, and clarified which areas and belongings should still be disinfected.

Wash and Moisturize Your Hands

Wash your hands after you cough, sneeze, touch your face, use the restroom, or are about to leave one place for another. You should wash your hands when you leave and return from the grocery store, for instance. Picking up SARS-Cov-2 by touching surfaces isn’t as much of a threat as we once worried it was, but it’s still a risk.

Hand sanitizer is a fast cleaning method that works wonders. (Here’s how to make your own.) It’s no substitute for washing your hands, though. Soap and water won’t necessarily kill all pathogens, but it will wash them off. The World Health Organization has detailed instructions on how to properly perform the 20-second hand wash.

Moisturizing your hands is also important. Dry, cracked skin is at greater risk for all kinds of infections, so apply a little moisturizer after you wash. It’s nice! Most moisturizing lotions have similar ingredients, starting with water and glycerin, so the brand doesn’t really matter. (Here are some hand lotions on Amazon.) If your hands are extra dry, look for something dermatologist-recommended with an “intensive” label, like Eucerin Advanced Repair, Neutrogena Hydro Boost, or Neutrogena Norwegian Formula.

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Stay Home

Stay home if you can, even if you’re not sick. Being in large crowds or going out to restaurants poses unnecessary risks not just to yourself but to the people around you. The more you’re in public, the more chances the novel coronavirus has to hitch a ride on your hands, clothes, or person. Millions of people are very vulnerable to this virus. Putting yourself at risk also puts them at risk.

“There will be a sizable portion of people who are older or who have other health conditions, and if they get sick all at once, they’re going to overwhelm the health care system. So we’re trying to decrease the number of transmissions,” Dr. John Townes, head of infection prevention and control at the Oregon Health & Science University, told WIRED.

Invest in a Cloth Face Mask

The CDC recommends that everyone wear a cloth face mask in public.

We have detailed instructions, and do’s and don’ts, on masks in our How to Make a CDC-Approved Cloth Face Mask guide. We also have tested and picked our favorite face masks for adults and the best face masks for kids. It doesn’t work if it’s dangling under your chin or if your nose is poking over the top.

A cloth mask may help protect others if you happen to have the disease. Some people who have the disease show mild symptoms, or none at all—particularly, those who are young–so you or they may have it and not know. As far as we’re aware, the novel coronavirus is transmitted through person-to-person contact or respiratory droplets. Just talking to someone can send droplets their way.

Do not put a mask on kids under 2 years old, but do help them social distance from others, and wash their hands. Evidence suggests kids are especially vulnerable to another condition caused by exposure to the coronavirus. Medical professionals have termed this condition Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

Clean and Disinfect Your Home

The first thing you’ll want to know is that cleaning and disinfecting are two very different things.

  • Cleaning is about removing contaminants from a surface.

  • Disinfecting is about killing pathogens.

  • Do both daily if anything or anyone has entered or exited your home.

Transmission from person-to-person is a much greater risk than transmission via surfaces, but the CDC still recommends you clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in our homes at least once daily just to be safe if people touching them have been in contact with the outside world or people beyond their social bubble, since SARS-Cov-2 is capable of living on surfaces such as cardboard for 24 hours, but up to two or three days on plastic and stainless steel.

Examples of High-Touch Surfaces to Clean and Disinfect Daily:

  • Doorknobs
  • Table surfaces
  • Hard dining chairs (seat, back, and arms)
  • Kitchen counters
  • Bathroom counters
  • Faucets and faucet knobs
  • Toilets (seat and handle)
  • Light switches
  • TV remote controls
  • Game controllers

Now that you know what you’re cleaning, here’s how you should do it.

First Clean, Then Disinfect:

  1. First, clean the surfaces, removing any contaminants, dust, or debris. You can do this by wiping them with soapy water (or a cleaning spray) and a hand towel.
  2. Then apply a surface-appropriate disinfectant. The quickest and easiest way to do this is with disinfecting wipes or disinfectant spray.

That’s it. Just adding these to your daily routine can help lower the risk of infection for you and anyone else in your household. If you aren’t able to obtain disinfectants, just do a thorough job with the soap or cleaning agents you do have.

The EPA has a full list of disinfectants that will kill the novel coronavirus, but here are a few essentials to keep an eye out for. You can find most of these disinfectants online at Amazon or Walmart if your grocery store is out of stock. Most disinfectants should have a label that lists the viruses they’re effective against, and that’s what you’ll want to look out for more than any particular active ingredient.

“If a disinfectant product has an indication for killing influenza, RSB, SARS virus, or other coronaviruses, then it should work against this one also,” Townes said.


How to Make Homemade Bleach Disinfectant Spray

If you can’t find good disinfectants at the store, the CDC also has a recommended recipe for a homemade cleaning solution using household bleach.

  • 4 teaspoons household bleach
  • 1 quart water
  • Pour both into one quart spray bottle, shake vigorously
  • Spray on surface to disinfect, let sit for 10 minutes, wipe away with wet cloth

Bleach is excessive in most cases. You should never mix bleach solution with any other cleaning chemical, and it’s likely to damage or discolor sensitive surfaces. Use it as a last resort if you can’t source or acquire any other kind of disinfectant. Remember to wear gloves, open your windows (ventilation is your friend), and be careful. And please, please, don’t drink it.

Does the Laundry Machine Work on Clothes?

Photograph: Electrolux

Yes, mostly. Just washing your clothing with regular laundry soap and drying it at a slightly higher temperature than you might have otherwise is all you have to do to disinfect your clothes.

Be sure to disinfect surfaces the dirty laundry comes in contact with, including the hamper and your hands—especially if you have a sick person in the house. Clean and disinfect the hamper like you would any other surface, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling dirty laundry from someone who is ill. The CDC recommends using a liner in your hamper.

Don’t forget to clean your coat and backpack. Wiping the inside off with a disinfectant wipe should do the trick unless your jacket is machine washable.

Should You Disinfect Food and Snacks?

No, not without reason. According to the FDA, there is no evidence to suggest that food or food packaging can transmit the novel coronavirus, so there is currently no need to disinfect food or food packaging any more than you usually would. Just observe standard food safety and wash your hands afterward.

Should You Disinfect Packages and Mail?

Photograph: Julie Clopper/Getty Images

No, you don’t have to do this. The USPS, via the CDC and World Health Organization, say there is no evidence that Covid-19 is being spread through the mail. That said, researchers have found that it can live on cardboard for around 24 hours, so if you have neighbors in an apartment building handling your packages in the lobby or are particularly at-risk for Covid-19, giving packages a once over with a disinfecting wipe isn’t a bad idea.

How to Disinfect Your Phone or Tablet

Photograph: Google

Use a disinfecting wipe or alcohol solution (at least 70 percent) on your phone. Make sure you pay special attention to the screen, the buttons, and anywhere dust and pocket lint tend to get trapped. Also make sure you remove any case that’s on your phone or tablet, clean underneath, put it back on, and clean the outside.

Read our full guide to disinfecting your phone.

How to Disinfect Your Computer

Avoid using a disinfecting wipe on the screen. Laptop displays aren’t always made of glass (matte displays are plastic), so it could cause damage. The display should be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol (70 percent) solution and a soft towel. Make sure you wipe down the keyboard, the trackpad, the exterior, and where your wrists rest on the laptop.

Most desktop computers are already in sore need for a cleaning. The best way to do that is with a disinfecting wipe or isopropyl alcohol solution and a soft towel. Again, avoid disinfecting wipes on the monitor, just in case—stick to isopropyl alcohol there. But otherwise, just make sure you wipe down the mouse (top, sides, and bottom), the keys on your keyboard, the exterior of the keyboard, and any mousepad you might have.

Don’t Forget Accessories

For any other electronic device, if the exterior is largely plastic (gaming mice, gamepads, TV remotes) it’s safe to give them a once-over with a disinfecting wipe or isopropyl alcohol solution.

Stay Home, Stay Safe

There’s a lot going on right now. It’s stressful. It’s scary. It can be hard to know what you should do or what’s going on. If you have more questions, we have a lot of thoughtful, thoroughly researched news and articles about the novel coronavirus. You can read more here.

We know cold weather is coming to a lot of where you live and the temptation will be to abandon the relatively safe outdoor gatherings that have sustained many of us through the summer and start gathering indoors where it’s far riskier, but we’re also entering influenza season, and people are already perennially more likely to get sick during the winter. Influenza plus Covid-19 pose an increased threat. Stay home when you can, maintain a social bubble, and stay safe.

More From WIRED on Covid-19

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