Posted on: March 24, 2020 at 11:53 am

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 reached American shores, U.S. citizens across the country have been hyper-vigilant of germs, meticulously cleaning every surface, doorknob, railing and handle in their homes. 

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People in every small town and city have been rushing to their local stores to find cleaning products for their homes. Retailers everywhere have been struggling to keep up with the demand, and barren shelves have forced thousands to look for items like disinfecting spray and sanitary wipes online, sometimes paying ten, twenty, or 100 times the usual price.

If you are among the millions of other Americans who have been left to stare despairingly at empty shelves, you may be comforted to know that many of the cleaning products you already have in your home are highly effective at destroying the coronavirus.

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Can You Contract the Virus From a Surface?

We know that the novel coronavirus is transmitted person-to-person through small respiratory droplets, but scientists are now beginning to understand that it can be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface as well.

According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine, the novel coronavirus can last several hours to several days on aerosols and surfaces.

The researchers found that COVID-19 was detectable in the air for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, twenty-four hours on cardboard, and up to two or three days on plastic or stainless steel [2,3].

Another study in the Journal of Hospital Infection studied past coronaviruses, such as the ones that caused SARS and MERS, and determined that if this new coronavirus is similar to its “cousins”, it could last on surfaces such as metal, plastic, and glass for up to nine days [4].

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If you come into contact with a surface that is contaminated with COVID-19, you could contract the virus.

Do I Need to Disinfect my Home?

Cleaning and disinfecting your home will help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, however, if no one in your home actually has the virus, there is little chance that it is living on any of the surfaces in your house.

That being said, now more than ever it is crucial that everyone be vigilant, and take extra precautions to protect themselves and their families. Disinfecting surfaces that you touch frequently, such as door handles, taps, and drawers will reduce the likelihood that you transfer any potential pathogens onto your hands [5].

Sarah Fozzard, Head of Home Hygiene at pharmaceutical company Thornton and Ross, explains that establishing a hygiene routine with simple preventative measures will help to reduce the spread of the virus.

“Wiping down high traffic areas will reduce the spread of viruses in areas which come into contact with various people throughout the day,” she says [5].

Read: What Do You Need to Buy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Common Household Products can Kill the Virus

As with all other strains of the coronavirus, COVID-19 is actually very easy to kill out in the open, and it is likely that you already have effective products in your closet at home. 

Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, meaning they are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant products [6].

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website includes a list of products that are known to be effective against the coronavirus, among others.

According to Consumer Reports, there are four specific products that have been proven to fight against the coronavirus strain.

Soap and Water

While millions are ransacking their local stores for disinfecting wipes and special cleaners, it appears that the most effective way to destroy the coronavirus is simply using soap and water. Along with the friction from scrubbing, cleaning with soap and water breaks through the coronavirus’ protective envelope. 

Organic chemist and member of the American Chemical Society, Richard Sachleben, suggests you scrub the surface “like you’ve got sticky stuff on [it] and you really need to get it off”.

Once you’re done, you should either discard the towel or leave it in a bowl with soapy water for a while to destroy any remaining virus particles [7].

Bleach

The CDC recommends making a diluted bleach solution by combining one-third of a cup (five tablespoons) of bleach with one gallon of water, or four tablespoons per quart of water [8]. 

You should always wear gloves when working with bleach, and never mix it with ammonia or anything except water. You should also not keep the solution for more than one day, since the bleach will degrade certain plastic containers.

Sachleben explains that many materials can react with bleach and deactivate it, so you should always wash surfaces first with water and detergent.

“Dry the surface then apply the bleach solution and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before wiping it off,” he says [7].

Bleach is corrosive to metal over time, so you should avoid cleaning faucets or any stainless steel surfaces with it, and be sure to rinse your countertops well with water after applying bleach to them, to avoid discoloration or damage to the surface [7].

Isopropyl Alcohol

You have probably heard a lot in the news about how alcohol is effective against the coronavirus, however that does not mean that pouring tequila or vodka all over your surfaces is going to help.

In order for it to be effective, you need to use a solution that is at least 70 percent alcohol. You should wash the surface first with water and detergent, then apply the alcohol solution and let it sit for at least 30 seconds [7].

Hydrogen Peroxide

According to the CDC, hydrogen peroxide is effective against bacteria, viruses, spores, and fungi [9].

It can deactivate the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, within six to eight minutes of exposure. Given that rhinovirus is more difficult to destroy than coronaviruses, hydrogen peroxide should be able to deactivate COVID-19 in even less time [7].

“It’s great for getting into hard-to-reach crevices,” Sachleben says. “You can pour it on the area and you don’t have to wipe it off because it essentially decomposes into oxygen and water.” [7]

Read: Opinion: Are You Young and unafraid of the coronavirus? Great, Now stop killing people

Cleaning Myths Surrounding COVID-19

There are some misconceptions with regards to what does and does not work against the coronavirus, so you should always practice your better judgment and ensure you are getting your information from a reliable source.

There are many homemade hand sanitizer recipes floating around on the internet right now, but Stephen Thomas, M.D., chief of infectious diseases and director of global health at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, advises against this.

“I’m a professional chemist, and I don’t mix my own disinfectant products at home,” he says. “Companies spend a bunch of time and money to pay chemists specifically to formulate hand sanitizers that work and that are safe. If you make it yourself, how can you know if it’s stable or if it works?” [7]

Another rumor that has been making its rounds is that you can use vodka as a disinfectant. Many vodka brands have already released statements that their products likely do not contain enough ethyl alcohol to act as a disinfectant, and customers should not be using them to combat the virus [7].

There are many people who prefer to clean their homes with more natural solutions made from distilled white vinegar, but there is no evidence that this is effective against the coronavirus.

Stay Home, Stay Safe

In times such as these, it is crucial that everyone do their part to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This means practicing social distancing, washing your hands frequently, keeping regularly-used surfaces clean, and avoiding leaving your home unnecessarily. 

While all of this might be difficult, the stricter we all are at following the instructions given to us by our governments and health officials, the more effective we will be at controlling the virus, and the more lives we can save.

Keep Reading: Japanese Flu Drug ‘Clearly Effective’ in Treating Coronavirus, Says China

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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