Disinfecting Surfaces – How to Avoid Getting Sick


Disinfecting surfaces – not only cleaning them, is a chief concern with the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Now that many of us are self-isolating at home, we have more time than ever to focus on spring cleaning. So where do you start? And what’s the best way to make sure you are actually cleaning and disinfecting surfaces effectively? Read on to learn more.

Cleaning Surfaces vs. Disinfecting or Sanitizing Them

There’s more to cleaning than just keeping your home tidy. It’s important to realize that the terms cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing all have different meanings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here are the definitions:

Cleaning Surfaces

Physically removes surface dirt and germs from surfaces or objects using soap (or detergent) and water. This may not kill germs, but by removing them it lowers the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting Surfaces

Kills germs on surfaces or objects by using chemicals. It may not physically clean a dirty surface or remove germs, but it lowers the risk of spreading infection.

Sanitizing Surfaces

Lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects by either cleaning or disinfecting them. Sanitizing is not meant as a substitute for cleaning. And it does not mean a surface is sterile or completely free of bacteria. Typically sanitizing uses steam, hot water or chemicals.

Disinfecting Surfaces Takes Time

Consider cleaning as a first step to physically remove germs, with sanitizing as an additional step and disinfecting as the last step.  Disinfecting is more than just spraying a surface, then immediately wiping it. For example when using Lysol, surfaces must remain wet for 10 seconds to sanitize, but up to 10 minutes to disinfect. For bleach products, first dilute the bleach according to directions, then leave on the surface for six minutes, after this, rinse with clean water, and finally allow to air dry.

Disinfecting sprays or wipes often take several minutes to kill germs. Check the package label for proper use on surfaces and be familiar with all safety warnings. Also make sure to use products registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against COVID-19. Be aware bleach and other chemicals may have different health risks. For those with young children or household members with certain health conditions (such as asthma), the EPA has a Green Cleaning Toolkit available.

Related: The Best Way to Clean A Cloth Mask

Disinfecting Surfaces – Daily Household Items

Any object frequently touched by your hands needs regular cleaning and disinfecting. These items include the following:

  • Sinks
  • Phones
  • Doorknobs
  • Light switches
  • Tablets
  • Computer keyboards
  • Toilets
  • Desks
  • Touch screens
  • Remote controls

Don’t Cross-Contaminate

Have you ever seen someone ‘clean’ a table with a dirty cloth? Or even wash a floor with a grimy mop? Chances are they are doing more harm than good. Bacteria thrive in damp, dirty fibers and in other moist environments.

    To minimize cross contamination when cleaning, do the following:
  • Use separate cloths for cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Launder cleaning cloths after each use in hot water.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends:

      • Washing your hands thoroughly and often
      • Making sure there is handwashing soap and paper towels, or a clean cloth at every sink in your home
      • Using alcohol based wipes or gels when soap and water are not available

      Related: Avoid Viruses, Colds and the Flu With Expert Hand-Washing Advice

      Spring cleaning is a fresh start. So make a plan, break out all those attachments of your vacuum, glove up and go!

      Along with a spring cleaning checklist, make sure your health screenings are up to date. Not sure? Talk with your primary care provider about what is recommended for you.

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  1. Can i disinfect with Gordon Gin 40% alcohol? I know how strange this sounds but we inherited all this booze from my Mom's estate and someone mentioned we could use it as hand sanitizer or wipe down grocery! We have no intention to drink the gin---so hoping to use it as disinfectant or ? Would really appreciate a response! Don't know who else to ask! thank you, Laura F