Disinfecting as a weapon against the Coronavirus

There’s so much we’re learning and still need to learn about COVID-19. As compelling as it is, I try not to watch the news 24/7, for a healthier daily outlook. But I do want to stay up to date on the best ways to protect myself, my family, and the larger community. I’ve been finding out how little I know about disinfecting!

I’m definitely not a germophobe, and until recently I avoided strong disinfectants. I generally clean using natural cleansers (mostly soap and water), and I give germy places an extra swipe with a vinegar/water/essential oil solution. These days, though, I’m paying extra attention to disinfecting. You know why. These are strange times. 

A few things I recently learned about disinfecting:

• Bleach has an expiration date. It may not be effective as a disinfectant after that date.

• “Cleaning wipes” are not the same as disinfecting wipes. I should have realized this but, never having used either, I didn’t really think about it. Cleaning wipes don’t kill viruses.

a person in a long-sleeve black shirt wraps their arms around containers of disinfecting wipes, bleach, and hand sanitizer

• To be effective, the disinfectant must sit on the surface for the amount of time stated on the label (“contact time” or “dwell time”).

• If your disinfectant wipe is no longer wet, it’s no longer effective as a disinfectant.

• Surfaces must be cleaned before they’re disinfected. Cleaning removes dirt and germs from a surface. Disinfecting uses chemicals to kills germs and viruses on a surface after it’s been cleaned. 

• While it doesn’t hold on to the virus as long as other surfaces, fabric can contain the virus. It’s a good idea to wash your clothes when you come home (from a run to the grocers, for example).

Some helpful reminders:

• To protect yourself and your family, open the window when you’re disinfecting. Wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards. 

• Make sure you close lids tightly and keep all cleaners and disinfectants where children can’t get to them. 

• Wash your pillowcases and towels more often than usual while fighting Coronavirus (and other illnesses). Airborne virus droplets can land on pillowcases and towels (especially damp towels).

• Wash clothes and linens in as warm water as possible. Dry them completely in the dryer or in the sun on a clothesline, weather permitting. 

• Give everyone their own hand towel, if possible. And wash all towels frequently.

• Don’t shake clothing or linens before washing or you may disperse germs.

• Empty your trash at least daily.

Basically, you want to clean a surface with soap and water (if it’s washable), then disinfect with an appropriate product for the surface — either a disinfectant spray or wipe. (For example, you won’t want to spray your electronic devices with a disinfectant, but wipes are safe for use on most of them.) Check directions for each of the items you need to disinfect.

EPA-registered disinfectants are considered safe and effective. (Check labels for the EPA registration number.) Otherwise, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol are also considered effective disinfectants. (I look for the most natural but still effective options.)

To make your own disinfectant, the CDC and EPA recommend combining 5 Tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach with one gallon of water (or 4 teaspoons per quart of water). Pour into a spray bottle and shake well. 

Never combine bleach with ammonia or vinegar. And be careful with bleach; it can discolor many surfaces. 

purple-gloved hands disinfect a faucet using a pink washcloth and white spray bottle

What to disinfect

As I started this extra cleaning step, I realized just how many surfaces would benefit from disinfection. Doorknobs and handles, for example, along with countertops and desktops, phones and remotes. So I thought it might be helpful to gather a list of things that both most need to be disinfected — and that may be forgotten. 

Here’s my checklist:

Light switches

Headsets

Cellphones (and landline, if you have one)

Remote controls

Computer keyboard

Computer mouse

Doorknobs

Countertops

Desktops

Fixtures

Faucets

Toilet seat and handles

Hard-backed chairs

Game controllers

Clothes hampers (or wash the liner)

Packages that come in the mail 

Kitchen handles (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, microwave, cabinets)

Handrails

Toothbrushes and toothbrush holder

Reusable shopping bags 

Purses and backpacks

Toys

Jewelry

Shoes

Inside the vacuum canister (empty and wipe with a disinfectant-soaked rag)

What have I missed? What have you realized we ought to be de-germing? 

You might also like: Spring cleaning — Why, when and how to spring clean your home.

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