When you look at your own home and the homes of friends and family, you probably see different levels of housekeeping. Some keep a spotless home with everything organized and in place. Others are more lax and allow crumbs to gather on tabletops and dust bunnies to breed under the beds. And, then there are the ones don't seem to mind a sink full of dirty dishes or piles of laundry on the bathroom floor.
Standards in cleaning are a personal choice until conditions become a danger to human life. When a life-threatening pandemic virus like COVID-19 or H1N1 is running rampant and spreading, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have established recommendations on cleaning and disinfecting your homes (and public spaces) to help prevent the spread of infection.
These guidelines should be followed during any potential exposure to viral infections and if someone in your home is already ill. Taking extra care is particularly important if a family member has an already weakened immune system.
Practice Personal Hygiene
Every member of the household should wash their hands with soap and warm water several times throughout the day to dilute the number of microbes on the skin. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Opportune handwashing times are:
- After shopping or using public transportation or facilities
- After sneezing, coughing, or blowing one's nose
- After using the restroom
- Before preparing food and eating
- After assisting another person with routine care
Hands should be well-soaped and rubbed briskly together for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and dried on a fresh, clean towel.
If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol can be used. If your hands are visibly dirty, wipe them off first with a paper towel. Hand sanitizers cannot penetrate through oil or heavy soil.
Wear Disposable Gloves When Cleaning and Doing Laundry
To protect your skin from microbes and harsh chemicals when cleaning with disinfectants, wear disposable gloves. If wearing reusable gloves, do not use them for other purposes. Always wash your hands even if you are wearing gloves after using any type of cleaning product.
Clean and Disinfect Common Touch Areas Twice Daily
Tables, counters, doorknobs, light switches, faucets, toilets, remote controls, tablets, cell phones, and other frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned with household cleaners and EPA-recommended disinfectants at least twice per day.
If surfaces are heavily-soiled or greasy, they must be cleaned thoroughly before they can be disinfected. Cleaning does not kill germs but dilutes the numbers by removing them with soap and water and lowers the risk of spreading infection. Use an all-purpose cleaner, warm water, and a microfiber cloth to clean the surfaces. The microfiber provides gentle abrasion to lift any dried-on particles.
Disinfect surfaces by using chemicals that kill any remaining germs.
Choose a Disinfectant
Disinfectants kill viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can be harmful. Chlorine bleach and alcohol solutions in appropriate strengths, as well as EPA-registered household disinfectants, are effective in household use.
Chlorine Bleach: Mix a solution of 5 tablespoons of fresh bleach per gallon of water. To be effective as a disinfectant, there must be a 5.25% to 6.15% concentration of sodium hypochlorite in the product, so check the label. Chlorine bleach is both light and temperature-sensitive. Whether the bottle is opened or not, it will lose potency within six to 12 months after purchase.
Isopropyl Alcohol: The alcohol content must be at least 70 percent in any alcohol-based cleaner or wipe to be effective as a disinfectant.
Apply the Disinfectant Correctly
On hard surfaces, the disinfectant should be applied in a large enough quantity that the surface will stay wet for at least four to five minutes. Allow the surfaces to air-dry before using. Do not wipe away the disinfectant unless the area will be used to prepare food.
Read all product labels and follow the directions for the best results.
Clean and Disinfect Plates, Glasses, and Utensils Carefully
If you are using a dishwasher set to the proper water temperature, food service items will be sanitized and safe to use and cleaning. When handwashing dishes, wash as usual and add a final soak in a solution of one tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per one gallon of cool water for two minutes before draining the solution and allowing the dishes to air-dry.
Clean and Disinfect Laundry
When handling laundry, wear disposable gloves and keep the dirty clothes away from your face. This is particularly important if someone in the home is ill.
Launder as usual but add a laundry sanitizer that is safe for the different types of fabrics and use the hottest water recommended for the fabric. If possible, dry the clothing on high heat in an automatic dryer.
Disinfect hampers or laundry bags after each load and especially before placing clean clothes back in the container.
Isolate Ill Family Members as Much as Possible
If possible, anyone who is ill should stay in their bedroom or in one area as much as possible. For more information see the CDC's guidelines on caring for someone who is sick at home.
- Clean surfaces and laundry used by the infected person more frequently.
- If a bathroom cannot be dedicated to the ill person, it should be disinfected after every use. A caregiver should wear protective gloves and eyewear when cleaning the fixtures.
- Do not allow infected persons to share towels, pillows or blankets with other family members.
- Wear disposable gloves when handling plates and eating utensils, even disposables.
- Line trashcans with garbage bags and empty them frequently. Wear gloves, keep the bags away from your face, and seal them well before disposing of them in a larger receptacle.
Cleaning and Disinfection for Households. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). Environmental Protection Agency, 23 July 2020
COVID19 - Caring for Someone at Home. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention