Disinfecting vs. cleaning
Social distancing and sheltering in place are important tools to help flatten the curve and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Disinfecting and cleaning anything that enters your home from the outside world – including yourself – is also paramount.
Scientists and the medical community are still discovering the various ways in which COVID-19 can be transmitted, but they all seem to agree that proper hygiene is an important step in the fight. What does that mean when it comes to cleaning the items you bring into your home?
“One of the challenges we have is that there is a lot of baseline information about the particular virus that causes COVID-19, SARS CoV-2, but very little basic research has been performed to determine how long it can survive on surfaces,” says Dr Meghan A. May, a professor of microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. “The good news is that SARS CoV-2 is highly susceptible to many disinfectants, including alcohol-based sprays or gels, ammonium compounds, detergents, bleach-based cleaners and heat.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, “cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.” So, what’s the difference? Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and other impurities from surfaces – this does not kill germs, but rather it helps reduce numbers and the risk of spreading infection. Since many cleaners and disinfectants are harsh on the skin, it’s wise to wear disposable gloves when cleaning with both items. Be sure to discard the gloves after each use and immediately wash your hands.
“When reaching for an antimicrobial cleaning product, it’s important to consider that optimal effectiveness of disinfectants – typically a 99.9 per cent reduction in particular pathogens – will only be achieved when used according to the label instructions,” warns Samara Geller, senior research and database analyst for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Too often, one or more key disinfection factors are overlooked by the user.” These are the four household products that kill coronavirus, according to Consumer Reports.
Here’s everything you need to think about the moment you arrive back home from an outing.
Wash your hands. Soap and water should always be your first choice. If not available, choose an alcohol-based sanitiser with at least 60 per cent isopropyl alcohol. Scrub thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, washing the front and back of your hands and fingers, between your fingers, and the fingernails (including underneath long nails). “You do not need to use antibacterial soap, nor do you have to use hot water,” says Dr Elizabeth Mullans, a dermatologist. “Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth until you have clean hands.” You will need to wash your hands again when you’re done unloading groceries or handling anything else you brought in from outside.
Try not to put your phone anywhere but your pocket or handbag and especially not on grocery conveyor belts, shelves, carts and payment counters. The less exposure to public surfaces, the better. When you return home, Dr Mullans says to use disinfecting wipes (such as Clorox, or alcohol-based wipes containing at least 70 per cent isopropyl alcohol). “Make sure to wipe down the entire phone, including the screen,” she says. “Disinfect your phone at least once a day, even if you’re staying home, but more frequently if out and about.”