As the world ramps up its self-protection measures against coronavirus, we have all seen the advice for washing our hands for 20 seconds (and various playlists for what songs to sing so you know you’ve reached the full 20 seconds), but there are also important considerations when it comes to keeping your living spaces free of coronavirus germs. Since the illness is transmitted via airborne droplets that can stay viable for at least several hours or possibly much longer (early studies are not conclusive about the exact window of time), it is important to decontaminate any surfaces where such droplets could land.
“What we tell people is to take this seriously,” said Vikas Chopra, a representative from Aftermath, a company that has specialized in the removal of biohazard material for several decades. “This is not something to take lightly. The whole concept of flattening the curve really requires us to treat this as a serious matter. If you have a confirmed or suspected case we want to nip it in the bud right away.”
At the end of January the Environmental Protection Agency released an extensive list of disinfectants that are effective against coronavirus, and, just this week, it updated the list with 40 new products that made it through their expedited review process. Note the list doesn’t mention products by brand name but instead identifies them by EPA registration number. Check your cleaning/disinfectant products for the EPA registration number on the packaging. If it is on this list, it is effective against coronavirus.
“The reason we say washing your hands is better than hand sanitizer, is that scrubbing with soap and water will get that stuff off a surface,” says Catherine Roberts, associate health editor for Consumer Reports. “It doesn’t necessarily kill it every time [but] it can remove pathogens.”
Citing previous Consumer Reports research she adds, “Scientists think soap does a pretty good job of disrupting the barrier that protects the virus. It should be comforting to folks that [coronavirus] is susceptible to being killed by these disinfectants. Hopefully, that should be reassuring to people, that their cleaning efforts aren’t necessarily going to waste.”
High-touch surfaces to worry about include: doorknobs, fridge/freezer/microwave handles, backs of chairs, tables and desks, countertops, light switches, toilets and sink fixtures, remote controls, other electronic devices, and toys.
Here are some other specific things to keep in mind:
- The kitchen, or any area where food is prepped or consumed, is one of the best places for germs to hang around. There are so many surfaces you have to touch, often as a matter of habit, that you can easily overlook places to keep disinfected even if you have the best of intentions.
- Some of the obvious places are the fridge and freezer doors but don’t forget about the shelves on the inside and the handles of vegetable drawers.
- Silverware: It isn’t just the knives and forks, but the silverware drawer that your fingers brush up against (or your breath over while the drawer is open) that you should take care to disinfect frequently.
- If you use reusable grocery bags, it can’t hurt to soak them in the sink with hot soapy water after you’ve put all the groceries away.
- Damp towels may be an excellent site for coronavirus droplets to stay alive longer than if they had landed on a hard surface. During this time of abundant caution, it makes sense to wash towels more frequently and, if possible, to only use hand towels once when drying your hands (or perhaps everyone has their own dedicated hand towel to use for hand drying).
- Don’t forget about disinfecting handles and fixtures for places like the medicine cabinet, drawer, and window latches, or other overlooked items like bath mats and soap dishes.
- This is where many items from our normal day end up, possibly contaminating each other before being used again. Wash pillowcases more frequently since that is where airborne droplets will occur the most and empty the trash can daily (especially if it doesn’t have a cover) to eliminate places where germs can congregate.
- Don’t forget about the switches for bedside lamps, handles on drawers, curtain pulls or television remote controls.
- Any laundry that could have coronavirus germs should be handled with disposable gloves. And, since coronavirus is transmitted through airborne droplets, take care not to shake the laundry (such as is when placing it in the washing machine). If you don’t have enough disposable gloves then dedicate reusable gloves to coronavirus cleaning and use those for touching laundry.
- Wash laundry in as warm water as possible to aid in killing the germs and make sure they are thoroughly dried in a dryer before using.
- Instead of collecting laundry in a non-disposable hamper, use a trash bag or liner that can be laundered to prevent germs from lingering in the home.
- Other wearables besides clothes need to be considered. Watches, jewelry, gloves and shoes are all likely to come in to contact with germs. Spraying your shoes—especially the tops and laces—with disinfectant and wiping your jewelry with a cloth that has an effective but non-abrasive cleaning solution will help prevent germs.
- Rubbing alcohol (or “surgical spirit” as it is called in the United Kingdom) is a way to disinfect device surfaces without risking water damage. It evaporates quickly enough that if you wipe it on a device with a cloth or paper towel, there isn’t enough time for it to migrate into the cracks and openings of a device and cause internal damage.
- Be warned: Over time, regular cloths like paper towels and dishcloths can be too abrasive for phone screens, so if you have microfiber cloth, use that instead.
- The person who is self-isolating or showing signs of illness should have their own trash receptacle. Anyone who disposes of the trash bags should wear disposable gloves while doing so.
- Even if you wear gloves while touching surfaces that have been contaminated, you can still be in danger if you don’t take remove them properly. Use your fingers, on one hand, to pull the other glove down your hand, grabbing the plastic near your wrist (not at its tapered edge where you could come in contact with your skin). Pull your fingers through the glove so that you turn it inside out as it comes off your hands. Then, use the inside-out glove to take off your other glove in the same manner and throw both away immediately.
- Remember pet fur could host droplets from coronavirus. Wash your hands after touching your pets if someone else suspected to have coronavirus touches them.
- Disinfect the inside of your vacuum cleaner by emptying the canister completely and wiping the inside walls with a disinfectant-soaked cloth. Let the moisture evaporate completely before closing everything back up again.