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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas. In most homes, frequently touched surfaces include doorknobs, light switches, remotes, countertops, tables, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. And don’t forget the handles of items like coffee pots, microwave ovens, and refrigerators.
Let’s take a closer look at the terms “cleaning” and “disinfecting” to make sure we understand the difference. According to the CDC:
- Cleaningrefers to the removal of dust, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning removes some germs, which decreases the risk of infection, but it does not kill them.
- Disinfectingrefers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
The CDC recommends using an EPA-registered household disinfectant.
What are EPA-registered household disinfectants? The EPA has a list of more than 250 products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19; you can see the list by going to the website at https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2.
Products on the list have active ingredients that include hydrogen peroxide, peroxyacetic or peracetic acid (made with hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid), sodium hypochlorite (bleach), and isopropyl alcohol (also called isopropanol), as well as many others.
Familiar products you’ll find on the list include Clorox Bleach, Clorox Multi-Surface Cleaner + Bleach, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Lysol Heavy Duty Cleaner Disinfectant Concentrate, Lysol Disinfecting Wipes, and Lysol Power Plus Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Many products on the list are made for commercial cleaning, so you’re not likely to see them on shelves in retail stores.
Another way to determine if a product meets EPA standards is to find the EPA registration number (EPA Reg. No.) on the label and check to see if that number is on the EPA list at the website provided above.
Homemade Bleach Solutions
Diluted household bleach also may be used as a disinfectant, but there’s more to it than just dumping some bleach into a bucket of water.
To make a bleach solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach with one gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. Use the solution only on hard surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, toilets, and other items that will not be damaged or discolored by the bleach. Wear gloves while cleaning, and wash your hands immediately after removing the gloves. Make sure the area you are cleaning has good ventilation; the fumes can irritate your eyes, nasal passages, and lungs.
The CDC recommends leaving a disinfectant on surfaces for at least 1 minute, but some products advise 5 or 10 minutes; check the label of all products and follow the directions provided. The list of EPA-registered household disinfectants also provides the contact time in minutes for each product listed.
Before making the solution, check the expiration date on the bleach, and don’t use it if it’s expired. Bleach loses its potency fairly quickly, especially if it’s stored incorrectly in direct sunlight or at a temperature above 77°F. If you make your own solution, it will lose its potency after 24 hours and should be discarded (to safely dispose of the solution, add water to it and pour it down the drain).
Never mix household bleach with any other cleanser, especially toilet bowl cleaners or ammonia. These mixtures produce chlorine gas, which is an asphyxiant—a substance that can cause suffocation. When chlorine gas comes into contact with moist tissues, such as the eyes or lungs, it forms hydrochloric acid, which will damage the airways and can result in unconsciousness or death.
Now you know how to identify and make disinfectants and how to use them in your home, you can feel assured that your cleaning efforts actually are providing protection for you and your family.
For more information about COVID-19, check out our Coronavirus Center.