Cleaning and disinfecting during COVID-19

We have been cleaning and disinfecting frantically since the COVID-19 outbreak. Clorox wipes were wiped out and it became almost impossible to find hand sanitizer. We started to see new products popping up online and in stores and out of desperation started buying off-brand items. Families that once used “cleaner” products began buying anything and everything to clean counters and slather on their kiddos’ hands. 

Let’s take a quick minute to check in and evaluate our cleaning regimens. What should we be thinking about when we clean?

Know the difference between cleaning and disinfecting

You want to be sure that your products are able to kill COVID-19 as well as other common viruses and bacteria; however, you should also have less harsh options for when you just want to wipe a spill.  

Keep a disinfecting spray or wipe that kills a variety of viruses and bacteria in your home handy so you can wipe down counters splattered with meat juice to kill any salmonella or for influenza or coronaviruses that you may have picked up and transferred to the doorknobs. Don’t forget the E. coli and noroviruses that could be lurking on your toilets. 

Disinfecting products that are commonly found at home include: 

  • Disinfecting wipes (Clorox, Lysol or store brand wipes)
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Make your own blend with common household items such as bleach – find the instructions here 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the full list of Covid-19 killing products, so be sure your disinfecting product is on their list. The EPA recommends letting the disinfectant sit on your hard surface for 10 minutes in order to kill 99.9% of the germs. It is important to read the labels so you know you are using your products properly and effectively, as some products may have different instructions.

Penn Medicine lists the germ “hot spots” that are high touch and should be included in a daily disinfectant regimen:

  • Cupboard and drawer knobs/pulls
  • Faucets
  • Kitchen and bathroom counters
  • Toilets, especially the seat and handle
  • Refrigerator, dishwasher, oven and microwave handles
  • Remote controls and game controllers
  • Cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices
  • Computer mouse and keyboard
  • Door knobs/handles
  • Table surfaces
  • Staircase railings
  • Light switches/switch plates

The CDC recommends disinfecting these high touch surfaces at least once per day if you are isolated at home because of suspected illness. If they are soiled, be sure to clean them off first. Cleaning involves wiping up soiled surfaces to remove dirt and particles, while disinfecting involves killing bacteria and viruses. Be sure to clean your surface before disinfecting it as most disinfectants work best on an unsoiled surface. 

You don’t have to disinfect your entire home each day if you are healthy, but you do want to clean and disinfect your high touch areas in your home routinely.  If you are looking for something to just clean off your hard surfaces from dust and grime, a simple multi-purpose soap solution or vinegar spray will do the trick. Make sure to follow instructions, don’t mix chemicals and keep the area ventilated.

Hand sanitizers and washing your hands

Keep hand sanitizers handy, especially when you are out and about. It is important to keep the germs at bay when you don’t have a sink handy to use soap and water. While these sanitizers can work well, the FDA reminds consumers to also wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose. However, if soap and water are not readily available, then you should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol (also referred to as ethyl alcohol). It is important to use enough of the sanitizer: be sure to cover both sides of your hands and to let it dry completely in order for it to work best. 

When you are at home or nearby a sink where you can wash your hands, you can use soap and water rather than slathering on sanitizer as a way to avoid those extra chemicals. The CDC reminds us that soap is the most effective method, especially when you have soiled hands. So use that nice natural soap to clean those hands and keep from exposing yourself to unnecessary chemicals.

Be aware that there has been a sharp increase in hand sanitizer production that includes the toxin “methanol”. Some companies were taking advantage of increased public use of sanitizer and produced subpar, dangerous products. Methanol is a toxic chemical found in fuel, solvents and antifreeze that is not safe for use in hand sanitizers. If you see this on the label or there has been a recall, it is unsafe to use these products.  

The FDA lists an updated chart of contaminated products to keep an eye out for. Be sure to also check newer brands to be sure they are not on the contaminated list before use. Methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death, so any ingestion or exposure to methanol requires medical attention right away.  

Decreasing your exposure to chemicals 

The EPA lists safe and effective products for different areas of your home and community. Many companies are trying to eliminate chemicals from household products that can cause harm when absorbed or inhaled. Make sure to check your products, follow directions and wear gloves when handling harsh chemicals. 

Also, after using disinfectant products on any food surface areas, you should rinse or wash off the area with water to avoid inadvertently ingesting any harmful substances or residue that may remain.

You can also limit your exposure to chemicals by washing your hands with soap and water when possible instead of using hand sanitizer. Also, be sure to wear gloves when using disinfectants. Check EWG for those daily use soaps and non-disinfectant sprays. Instead of using harsh chemicals while wiping dust and dirt, you can use a more gentle option like vinegar and water and save the bleach for only those high-touch surfaces.

Nurse-1-1 team faves

Nurse-1-1 fan favorites include a more natural option, Force of Nature, which is an EPA registered disinfectant and sanitizer that kills 99.9% of germs including: Staph, MRSA, Salmonella, Norovirus, Influenza A & Listeria when used as directed. It is listed as likely effective on COVID-19. Since this is a new virus, testing is still in progress and is a two step process. This product is listed as having an emerging claim, meaning it’s in the middle of that process.

Another favorite is Lysol Disinfecting wipes, which also have an emerging claim for COVID-19 (if you can get them!) and are a popular option for bathrooms and high touch surfaces within the team.  

Nurse-1-1 also loves Branch Basics for a non-toxic cleanser, especially great for those with sensitive skin. Mrs. Meyers Basil all purpose general cleanser is another great multi-surface cleanser as well as plain vinegar and water with a few drops of lemon for general cleaner. 

Safe use of any cleaning product is important. Make sure to keep them out of the reach of children and follow the directions. Call Poison Control immediately if you have had a chemical ingestion or exposure, and don’t hesitate to chat with a nurse if you have any concerns.

The opinions expressed in Nurse-1-1 Health Center Blogs are solely opinions of the writer. Other than information received directly by you from your personal provider, the health center blog should not be considered medical advice. Read more.