The Home Cleaners You Should (And Shouldn't) Be Using During COVID-19
Here at mindbodygreen, we celebrate DIY home cleaners and love a good apple cider vinegar concoction and baking soda paste. But while these recipes are effective for wiping down life's everyday messes, they don't seem to be strong enough to kill viruses like COVID-19.
There's still a lot we don't know about how this particular virus spreads, but preliminary research on other coronaviruses found that they can live on surfaces like metal, glass, and plastic for up to nine days. While plain old soap and water are enough to wash our hands of the virus, these hard surfaces likely need to be treated with something stronger.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines "cleaning" as removing germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces and "disinfecting" as the act of using chemicals to actually kill germs. "By killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection," the CDC website reads. Given these recommendations, we should hang tight to our favorite natural and homemade cleaners but supplement with some more heavy-duty stuff, at least for now.
What kind of disinfectants seem to be able to kill the virus?
There are a few categories of disinfectants that seem to kill COVID-19, according to the CDC. They are:
Hydrogen peroxide is one chemical disinfectant that's thought to kill COVID-19, and it's something you might already have at home. You can spray 3% hydrogen peroxide directly onto hard surfaces or combine it with soap and essential oils to boost its antimicrobial, antiviral properties. Here's one recipe for a hydrogen-peroxide-based cleaner:
- 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide
- 1 teaspoon Castile liquid soap
- 10 drops peppermint essential oil
- 5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 5 drops lemon essential oil
- Add the hydrogen peroxide, liquid soap and 2 tablespoons water to a small spray bottle.
- Add the essential oils and shake well.
The CDC also vouches for alcohol-based disinfectants that are verified with an EPA registration number. You can find a list of 370 of them here.
You can buy a bleach-based cleaner (just make sure that it's intended for disinfection and not meant to be used only on laundry) or make your own by mixing ⅓ cup of bleach in a gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons in a quart. Make sure your bleach has not expired, and follow the directions on the label for proper use. Whenever you're handling bleach, you should open windows and wear latex gloves to protect your hands. Remember: Gloves can potentially spread germs when used incorrectly, so be sure you're removing and disposing of yours properly.
Using harsh disinfectants like bleach for an extended period of time can actually damage surfaces and create an environment where germs can spread even more easily and should only be used during extreme circumstances like these.
What are the best practices for disinfecting hard surfaces at home?
Once you have your disinfectant of choice, you need to decide where to use it. "One of the things you want to consider when cleaning your home is your behavior," Linda Lybert, the executive director of the Healthcare Surfaces Institute, a nonprofit that works to mitigate the spread of infectious disease in hospitals, tells mbg. "What surfaces do you usually interact with?"
If you're following best practices like social distancing, washing your hands regularly, and staying at least 6 feet from others when you do leave your home, the surfaces in your house should be clean. But better safe than sorry. According to Lybert and the CDC, areas like sink faucets, countertops, and doorknobs tend to be touched the most at home and should be disinfected regularly: every few days, or more often if someone in your home has the virus.
If a surface actually looks dirty, wipe it down with a standard cleaner first to clean the slate before you start the disinfecting process. When you're disinfecting, the most important thing to do is putting some elbow grease into it. According to Lybert, "It's the friction that removes the microbes from surfaces." Don't just wipe the surface down; focus on really scrubbing it to ensure you are wiping out germs instead of spreading them around.
Lybert also recommends wiping down the surface with water after using your disinfectant to ensure that it's not lingering on surfaces and causing damage. Then, immediately throw the tool you used during your disinfecting session—be it a washcloth, sponge, etc.—into your washing, laundry machine, or makeshift laundry machine to be cleaned. Washing your hands before and after cleaning is also important.
If disinfecting high-traffic areas of the home seems like a pain, that's because it is. But if we can all commit to doing it now, hopefully we can go back to our beloved baking soda blends sometime soon.
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.