Preventing the spread of illness in our homes is one of the primary reasons to clean. Controlling germs in our environments is one way to prevent these noxious microorganisms, such as COVID-19, from polluting our bodies. Following basic cleaning and disinfecting procedures can aid in achieving this control.
Cleaning Versus Disinfecting
First let’s talk about the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning is the mechanical action of removing germs, dirt, and other materials from surfaces. This can be accomplished through any number of methods, such as wiping hard surfaces with a cloth, vacuuming rugs, or sweeping floors.
The process of disinfecting, on the other hand, involves the use of chemicals to eliminate germs. Typically in homes, disinfectants are applied to surfaces to specifically target common household pathogens. Disinfectants come in many forms, which will be discussed below.
Cleaning and disinfecting can be a two-stage process, or disinfection can take place independently, or they can occur simultaneously, such as with the use of a cleaning disinfectant. The more thorough approach involves both cleaning and disinfecting; however this may not be always be necessary, for example at times when all household members are healthy.
Preventing the spread of highly contagious illnesses calls for treating hard surfaces by both cleaning and disinfecting. This method most effectively removes the highest percentage of germs.
Surfaces That Harbor Germs
Certain surfaces in your home are more likely to harbor germs than others. This is because these areas tend to be the ones with which multiple household members come in contact most regularly. To prevent the spread of germs in times of illness, these “hot zones” should be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day. This will significantly reduce the spread of microorganisms.
Targeted surfaces include all areas that are frequently touched: door knobs and handles, drawer pulls, kitchen counter tops or other similar surfaces, sink handles, light switches, frequently-used tabletops, and electronic surfaces such as phones, remote controls, and keyboards. Bathroom sinks, faucets, and counter tops should also be cleaned and disinfected, as well as toilet handles and all other toilet surfaces that are often touched. Any other areas that are subject to frequent touching by hands should be likewise cleaned and disinfected.
The process of cleaning a surface has the potential to remove a substantial percentage of germs, depending on how thoroughly and diligently the job is performed. Many variables weigh in on the effectiveness of mechanical cleaning to reduce germs. For example, when wiping surfaces with a cloth, factors such as the density of the weave of the cloth, number of times the cloth is rinsed in water, and the number of passes made by the cloth over the target surface will directly impact the resulting removal of germs.
Since the primary objective of cleaning isn’t so much to remove germs as to remove other debris, such as crumbs, dust, pet hair, or dirt, the elimination of germs at this stage is beneficial but incidental. Many densely-woven microfiber cloths have the potential to remove substantial amounts of undesirable microbes, and when the prime overall objective is the elimination of germs, this is very advantageous.
Stage two, disinfecting, should eliminate any remaining germs from hard surfaces. This may require that applied cleaning agents be allowed to remain on the surface for several minutes in order to achieve the most effective result.
Thoroughly rinsing the surface after the proper amount of time removes the dead germs along with the cleaning agent, which is likely also toxic to humans and pets. Rinsing is the equally important third step in the process.
Let’s talk about disinfectants. Disinfectants are chemicals that kill germs. They are also generally not especially healthy for humans and pets. Many of these strong agents produce fumes requiring ventilation and may cause unpleasant respiratory irritation, among other things. Generally, it’s best to wear gloves when using these products.
By and large, the use of disinfecting agents should not be taken lightly. These products have their place to contain the spread of contagious pathogens. In healthy households, it is generally not necessary to use these products on a daily basis and may be counterproductive because their use increases household members’ exposure to chemicals.
What Disinfectant Should You Use?
Common household disinfectants include chlorine bleach, isopropyl alcohol, and many pre-mixed commercial products such as Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Clorox Clean-Up, and Lysol Disinfecting Cleaner. Some disinfectants can be harmful if used around pets, for instance many Lysol products. All disinfectants should be used with caution.
The CDC recommends specific disinfectants to control the spread of microorganisms such as COVID-19. Taken directly from the CDC website, these are as follows:
- Diluted household bleach mixed using 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.
- Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol.
- EPA-registered household disinfectants. A link to EPA-registered household disinfectants can be found here.
Safety When Using Disinfectants
When using disinfectants, be sure to follow safety precautions. Wear disposable gloves and properly ventilate the area in which the agent is being used by opening a window or using a vent fan. Rinse thoroughly any products that instruct you to do so.
Never mix any cleaning agent with another cleaning agent and especially never mix ammonia or chlorine bleach together or with any other products.
Also be sure that it’s safe to use the disinfectant on the surface to which it is being applied. For example, chlorine bleach can damage many surfaces. Use common sense as well; you wouldn’t want to saturate a phone or remote control with liquid.
Also be very cautious using any type of disinfectants around pets or small children. Many disinfectants have great potential to cause illness in or even kill pets. Finally, always be sure that children can’t accidentally get hold of any type of disinfecting agent.
Wash Your Hands
A final note: according to the CDC, the most important thing all members of your household can to do reduce the spread of germs is hand washing. Plain old-fashioned soap and water used many times throughout the day is what they recommend doing to improve your odds of staying healthy.
Want more organizing and house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my author page. My books include De-Clutter and Organize Your Home in 7 Simple Steps, Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, and How to Become a Cleaning Pro: the Ultimate Guide to Starting and Operating Your Own House Cleaning Service.