Killing risky germs on household surfaces is nothing new; you're probably already doing it when you routinely clean the bathroom and after you handle raw meat or chicken in the kitchen. During the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, keeping all frequently-touched household surfaces, like faucet handles, phones, and remote controls, germ-free is more top-of-mind than ever.
Since COVID-19 is a new disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a viral respiratory virus that causes coronavirus to spread, experts are currently studying ways that the virus thrives on surfaces across the home. It's important to know that not all cleaning products that claim to disinfect are equally effective on all types of germs.There are many types of bacteria and viruses and not every product kills them all.
Only two Lysol products have been directly sanctioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against the spread of COVID-19 specifically, according to a release from the agency. But there are also over 420 disinfectants that are known to neutralize potentially deadly germs that the EPA has previously endorsed; plus a few DIY options for those in a pinch. Below, we're highlighting which products specifically work on the coronavirus, how to properly use them for maximum effectiveness — and which to avoid.
What kills coronavirus?
The first products to be officially recognized by the EPA to effectively kill SARS-CoV-2 come from Lysol. In July, two products were announced as the first cleaning agents to meet the EPA's criteria based on laboratory testing that concluded both Lysol products kill greater than 99.9% of the germs within two minutes of contact, per a Lysol press release. Lysol's Disinfectant Spray earned the first distinction as well as Lysol's Max Cover Disinfectant Mist. Like other disinfectants, the surface in question must be kept wet with disinfectant in that time frame — and it's meant to be used on hard, non-porous surfaces. An earlier peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Infection Control suggests that Lysol is more than 99.9% effective against SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.
Currently, many major retailers online are out of stock on these particular disinfectants (your local retailer or pharmacy may be stocked). Luckily, the EPA has also compiled a list of products that — while not specifically tested on SARS-CoV-2 — have been proven effective on similar or harder-to-kill viruses, such as the rhinovirus that causes the common cold; they expect these to work on the coronavirus, too. These products use a variety of different ingredients and formulations, so be sure to use them exactly as the label directs. These products include:
- Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
- Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner + Bleach
- Lysol Multi-Purpose Cleaner with Bleach
- Lysol Multi-Purpose Cleaner with Hydrogen Peroxide
- Purell Multi Surface Disinfectant Spray
- Microban 24 Hour Multi-Purpose Cleaner
How to use cleaning products to kill coronavirus
Before using any sanitizing or disinfecting product, start by reading the label to make sure it is registered with the EPA and to see what strains of bacteria and viruses it kills. The EPA registration number can usually be found in small type on the bottom of the front or back label, and the bacteria and viruses the product is effective against are also usually listed.
EPA registration is required by law for any cleaner that claims to kill germs. It's what we rely on in the Good Housekeeping Cleaning Lab when we evaluate sanitizing and disinfecting products and it assures you that if you follow the directions, the product will work as claimed.
A few more points:
- Know that sanitizing is not the same as disinfecting. Sanitizing (reduces the risk of illness by killing 99.9% of germs) usually takes less time — sometimes just 30 or 60 seconds — while disinfecting (killing 99.999% of germs) can take anywhere up to 10 minutes, depending on the product.
- Check the label for how long hard, non-porous surfaces must stay wet for the most effective germ killing. Because liquids evaporate, this may require you to apply the product multiple times.
- No product can adequately sanitize or disinfect a dirty surface, so make sure you clean — even with plain soap and water — before you disinfect.
What DIY household cleaner kills coronavirus?
According the the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), an easy way to disinfect hard, non-porous surfaces with a product you likely have at home is to combine 1/3 cup of regular chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) bleach per gallon of water. (Clorox recommends using 1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water.) For small batches, use 4 teaspoons of regular chlorine bleach and 1 quart of water.
To use: Wearing gloves, dip a cloth into the mixture, wipe the surface, allowing the solution to contact the surface for five minutes and air dry. Rinse all surfaces, including food contact surfaces, like countertops and high chair trays, with warm water and air dry after disinfecting. Be careful not to splash the bleach solution on your clothes or in your eyes and use it sparingly on stainless steel sinks and surfaces. It's also important to note that the bleach and water solution needs to be made fresh each day you use it.
Does hydrogen peroxide kill viruses and bacteria?
According to the CDC, hydrogen peroxide is a stable and effective disinfectant against a wide variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, when used on hard, non-porous surfaces. Typically sold in 3% solutions, hydrogen peroxide can be used as is, directly from the bottle. It's best to keep it away from fabrics when cleaning and to wear gloves to protect your hands.
To use: Spray or wipe it on the surface, allowing it to remain wet for at least one minute before wiping.
Will alcohol disinfect surfaces?
Isopropyl alcohol is an effective disinfectant against many pathogens, including coronavirus, as long as the concentration is 70%. Most rubbing alcohols are 70% isopropyl alcohol, but concentrations can range from 60-99%. For killing coronavirus quickly on surfaces, 70% is best — pure (100%) alcohol evaporates too quickly to be effective.
To use: Wipe or spray the surface with the alcohol and make sure it remains wet for at least 30 seconds.
Can vinegar kill germs?
No. According to the CDC and NSF (a public health and safety organization), vinegar (or vinegar-based alternative cleaning products) should not be used to disinfect or sanitize. Vinegar-containing cleaning products can be a good in some instances, but vinegar is not registered with the EPA as a disinfectant and is ineffective against most bacteria and viruses – it does not kill the flu or coronavirus. Undiluted white vinegar may work on some limited types of bacteria, but it's not the best way to get surfaces germ-free. (Besides, coronavirus is a virus, not a bacteria.)
What else you should know about cleaning your home right now
- Regular soap and water cleans germs away and cuts down the quantity of germs, which also reduces the chance of infection. But to actually kill germs, you also must sanitize or disinfect surfaces after cleaning them.
- Never combine disinfecting or any cleaning products and open the window or ventilate a room if fumes become bothersome.
- Soft surfaces are porous and will never fully reach the level of germ kill required to be fully disinfected. Some antibacterial sprays can sanitize soft surfaces, like pillows and plush toys.
- Test surfaces for safety in a hidden spot before using alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or any disinfectant on a surface, especially a delicate one. On food contact surfaces, rinse with clear water and dry after disinfecting, unless the product label specifically says it's not necessary.
As more information about the coronavirus pandemic develops, some of the information in this story may have changed since it was last updated. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit the online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department.
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