Regularly cleaning and disinfecting your home is a key part of protecting yourself from getting sick. Bacteria and viruses can live on frequently touched surfaces and high-traffic areas, ensuring that if anyone in your residence is sick, then everyone is at risk. In their comings and goings, the people in your household who aren’t sick can even act as asymptomatic carriers for bacteria and viruses, spreading disease to your roommates, family, or anyone else living with you.
Bacteria can live on surfaces for hours, or even days. And while some viruses die instantly outside of the body, others can survive for up to a year on the right surface. That means that staying on top of germs by regularly cleaning and disinfecting is critical to protecting your loved ones.
What Are the Differences Between Cleaning and Disinfecting?
Cleaning and disinfection are both key parts of keeping your home or work environment safe. Cleaning uses soap and water to remove dirt that can be a food source to germs. It doesn’t kill the germs, but it can reduce the number of germs present, decreasing the risk of transmission. On the other hand, disinfecting kills germs, but does not remove them.
Routine cleaning and disinfection together work as a one-two punch. You clean a surface in order to remove grime and dirt where germs can hide, and to remove as many of the germs as possible. Following up with disinfection kills most of the bacteria and viruses that remain after the cleaning is done. Together, they help protect you and others from the spread of disease. (Both are different from sanitization, which is a less comprehensive, quick-fix application that kills bacteria, but typically not viruses.)
Where Should I Disinfect in My Home?
Any high-touch area in your house should be disinfected regularly:
- Light Switches
- Sink handles
- Kitchen tools that are shared
- Hard-backed chairs
- Remote controls
Lower-touch items and surfaces should still be tended to but may not need to be disinfected as often. The more often a space is touched, the more often it should be cleaned. Those are the biggest avenues through which germs spread—from one person’s hands, to another person’s hands, to that person’s face. Different types of viruses and bacteria differ in their ability to survive outside of the body. But even if a germ can only last for a few hours outside of a host, that’s plenty of time for it to spread from one person to another on a doorknob or the handle of a knife in the kitchen.
High-touch items may not always be obvious, either because you don’t consider them part of the “household,” or because they’re such a seamless part of your life. For instance, how much time do you spend holding your cell phone, and when was the last time you disinfected it? Maybe you clean the doorknobs regularly, but do you clean the toilet handles? What about your refrigerator handles?
There is one exception to “clean high-touch areas”. If someone is sick, they should be kept in a separate room, if possible. That room should only be cleaned as needed, to limit exposure to illness by people who aren’t sick. The bedding should be changed daily. If someone in your home is sick, consider opening a window so that airborne germs have somewhere to escape. Ventilation can make a big difference.
What Products Should I Use for Disinfecting?
You’ll want to use disinfectants that are registered with the EPA. Products are listed for either hard or soft surfaces, and you’ll want to use them appropriately. The EPA has grouped the disinfectants that are specifically approved to kill COVID-19. These should be used for hard, non-porous surfaces.
Whatever disinfectant you choose, make sure that you follow the instructions on the product label in order to ensure its effectiveness. Many disinfectants call for you to leave them on the surface you’re disinfecting for a set period of time. Doing so is important in order for them to work properly. When cleaning and disinfecting, wear disposable gloves, and discard them when you’re done. Clean your hands immediately.
For non-porous surfaces like curtains and rugs, clean them with the same cleaners you normally would. Using a disinfectant registered for soft surfaces may be more effective in reducing the spread of germs.
Another big source of non-porous cleaning is your laundry. The good news is that you don’t have to do anything new. Laundering your fabric items in a washing machine is sufficient for clothing, sheets, and more. Use the warmest water that the care instructions allow you to. You do not need to separate a sick person’s laundry from everyone else’s. However, you should wear (and properly discard) disposable gloves when handling laundry from an ill person.
How Can I Disinfect Against COVID-19 At Home?
COVID-19 is actually not hard to kill on surfaces or on your hands. Many disinfectants are helpful in eliminating it, and soap and water are effective at removing it from your hands. Following the steps discussed above, like cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces frequently with EPA-approved disinfectants, can go a long way towards preventing the spread of COVID.
However, it’s worth noting that COVID-19 is also airborne. And it’s looking increasingly likely that it isn’t just transmitted via large droplets, as originally speculated, but in small particles from the breath called aerosols that can stay suspended in the air for hours. That means that part of protecting yourself from COVID, in addition to disinfecting, means limiting who enters your home. Anyone who does (for repair work, etc.) should wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth.
In addition, regularly washing your hands is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have set hand hygiene guidelines to help people understand how to best wash hands. Use soap and running water and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. When you can’t wash your hands, you can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. (Just remember that sanitizers don’t remove all germs.)
Protect Your Property Against Viruses with Disinfection
Maintaining a clean, disinfected home environment is important for everyone. It’s especially important if someone in your home is in a vulnerable population, or if someone works outside of the home around other people. And while COVID-19 is the hot-button disease, it isn’t the only illness that can be transmitted through high-touch surfaces and other vectors. That’s especially important to remember during flu season.
If you’re a business owner, the need to maintain your facility or commercial space disinfected is even more important. Ensuring your facility is able to function during the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult, especially as you work to meet local guidelines on reopening. Disinfecting services for commercial properties require a decontamination expert such as ServiceMaster.