How to Disinfect to Keep your Family Healthy During Cold & Flu Season

There are dozens of products on the market for cleaning and disinfection. Many are from well-known brands like Clorox, Lysol and Mr. Clean

(UPDATED: 3/30/2020 - Here's a link to the EPA site showing what disinfectants kill)

cleaning essentials for disinfection

Cleaning and disinfection are important habits of good hygiene and are always necessary to limit the spread of germs. With every cold and flu season, we get a reminder to be more diligent about disinfecting.

But what does that mean?

Should you be using bleach on everything in your home?

If you buy a commercial cleaner like ‘Lysol bathroom foaming cleaner’ will that do the same thing as bleach?

Are these strong chemicals safe for children? Pets?

wiping drawer handles

One thing that this pandemic has brought to light is that most of us could use a refresher on how to properly disinfect the things and surfaces in our homes.

What Steps are Appropriate if a Sick Person has been in the Home or Building?

Businesses, schools and daycare centers are some of the public buildings that are frequented by many people. What happens when someone shows up to one of these buildings and they are sick? How do you limit everyone else’s exposure?

woman looking outside

The CDC recommends that you close off the area that the sick person was in. Open doors and windows to circulate air, but leave it closed off and unoccupied for as long as possible before cleaning. If it is feasible, leave it alone for at least 24 hours to rid the area of any airborne pathogens before sending someone in to clean and disinfect.

woman by the window wearing face mask under quarantine

When a sick person coughs or sneezes, germs become airborne and can be inhaled by nearby persons. Depending on the virus and its mode of transmission, droplets can stay airborne for up to 45 minutes. After that, they can remain live on surfaces for hours or days. Since it is impossible to know what the persons illness is without testing, it is best to act with caution and assume that the virus has a long life.

Steps to Clean and Disinfect

Once appropriate, sanitation workers equipped with personal protective equipment like masks and gloves should use chemical agents to clean and disinfect all areas. This includes locations that were known to be exposed to the sick person, as well as restroom facilities, break rooms, and kitchens.

Cleaning and Disinfection are Separate Activities

With dozens of all-in-one cleaners on the market, many consumers seem to have forgotten that cleaning and disinfection are two separate activities. If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned with a detergent or soap and water first.

Vigorous scrubbing with soap and water will remove any dirt and grime where germs can grow and is generally sufficient for most household applications. It will remove most surface germs, but during times of known exposure when someone in the household is already sick. Or, in times when there is a particularly prolific virus circulating, additional disinfection is recommended.

What Products are Effective for Disinfection

A properly diluted household bleach solution, commercial disinfectant, or an alcohol solution with at least 70% alcohol is recommended to disinfect surfaces. Start by cleaning the surface with soap and water first and then disinfecting with one of these products as an additional second step.

cleaning essentials for disinfecting surfaces

Household Bleach - Popular brands like Clorox sell thousands of gallons of household bleach to consumers every day.

But make no mistake, bleach is a caustic and dangerous chemical that should be used with great caution.  Always check the label on your container of bleach for proper dilution, and NEVER mix any cleaning solutions together as potentially toxic fumes can be created.

two women talking about Clorox

For Clorox Bleach Disinfectant: Dilute ½ cup bleach into 1 gallon of water and mix well before use.

measuring bleach to mix with water

Use gloves and a spray bottle or sponge to apply. Wet the surface with the bleach solution and allow the surface to remain wet for five minutes. Rinse well and allow the surface to air dry.

using gloves and spray to disinfect surfaces

For Clorox Bleach Sanitation: Dilute 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water. Mix well and allow to remain on the surface for two minutes. Rinse well and air dry.

using Clorox for sanitation

Alcohol Solutions: Isopropyl rubbing alcohol with at least a 70% concentration can also be used as an effective disinfectant. This is the same stuff that you can buy in the pharmacy and first aid aisles. Just make sure to check the alcohol concentration.

Please keep in mind that alcohol is flammable and should be used in small areas only. It is also damaging to some surfaces, especially plastic, so limited use is best.

four liters of Equate alcohol

Commercial Disinfectants: Products intended for household use like Lysol or Clorox Multi-surface Disinfectants can also be effective at killing or inactivating viruses and bacteria on a variety of surfaces in the home. The instructions vary by product, but are all similar to applying this disinfectant and allowing it to sit for 4 - 7 minutes. After the appropriate time has expired, rinse the surface and allow it to air dry.

Lysol products in grocery cart

Whatever method you choose to disinfect the surfaces in your home, following the instructions on the label is the most important step.

Many of us mistakenly miss important steps.

How many times have you sprayed your counter-tops down with a multi-surface cleaner and wiped it right back off?

After all the product is labeled as a disinfectant, shouldn’t it work?

In order to be fully effective, the agent needs to remain on the surface long enough to work. The amount of time it takes depends on the product so please remember to check the label.

...And while you're at it, consider tackling some Home Improvement projects you've been putting off; we have some starter ideas.

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