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Cleaning in the time of coronavirus

How to create a COVID-19 cleaning routine for your home: the products you need and what you should do.

cleaning a kitchen benchtop with antibacterial cleaner
Last updated: 25 March 2020

Need to know

  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting is advised around the home to help limit the spread of the virus
  • Most everyday cleaning products, or even soap and water, will be suitable for thorough cleaning (although to kill the virus on a surface, a disinfectant is needed)
  • Some studies have shown that the virus can live on hard surfaces for up to nine days, but can be eradicated in a minute with effective disinfecting

As we all brace ourselves for an extended period of time indoors, our thoughts turn to how we keep ourselves as healthy as possible and our homes virus-free. 

As well as taking precautionary measures like regular hand-washing with soap and water, not touching your face – in fact, trying not to touch anything – it's important to clean and disinfect surfaces thoroughly to remove the COVID-19 virus and limit its spread. 

Of course, if someone in your house has tested positive for COVID-19, or you're in self-isolation due to travel or coming in contact with someone who has the virus, it's even more important to clean and disinfect regularly (as well as putting other precautionary measures in place).

person cleaning door handle wearing disposable gloves

When cleaning, pay special attention to high-traffic and high-touch areas such as doorknobs.

The difference between cleaning and disinfecting

The best plan of action is to first clean surfaces by removing the dirt, using an all-purpose cleaner, and then apply disinfectant to get rid of the virus (the first step makes the virus easier to remove in the second step).

  • Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces (it doesn't kill germs but can reduce them and reduce the risk of spreading an infection).
  • Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection. 

The more isolated we become in our own homes, the less chance we have of someone entering our home who has COVID-19. 

If no-one in your immediate household has tested positive, you don't need to obsessively clean to remove germs (over and above your usual everyday cleaning). 

However, you may want to clean and disinfect after visitors or in high-traffic areas or communal outdoor areas that others may have visited, and especially areas with high contact such as doorknobs and handles.

The cleaning products you should use against coronavirus

There's a good chance you probably already have the cleaning products you need in the cupboard. Your everyday cleaning methods and supplies, applied with diligent scrubbing, will help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The important thing is to first clean with a detergent and water, then disinfect with a bleach-based solution or an alcohol-based solution with at least 70% alcohol. 

Your choice of cleaning product will be determined by the type of surface you're cleaning and how likely it is that it is contaminated by the COVID-19 virus. If you feel the risk of contamination is high, you may like to opt for a stronger bleach-based solution for the disinfecting part of the process. 

Check the label to ensure the product kills viruses (not just bacteria)

The Australian Department of Health says you should use a disinfectant that claims "antiviral activity", meaning it can kill a virus (such as chlorine-based disinfectants). 

This is different to an 'antibacterial cleaner'. Antibacterial cleaning products contain ingredients to eliminate germs and bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. While you can still use these products to clean surfaces, the 'antibacterial' ingredients themselves will not eliminate COVID-19. 

Just to confuse you further, some products that market themselves as being 'antibacterial' are actually also disinfectants – but not all. So check the label to ensure the product kills viruses as well (not just bacteria).

Studies show that disinfectant products containing at least 62–71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite can remove a virus within one minute

General sanitisers and cleaners that make claims such as 'antibacterial' do not have to be regulated or approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), however disinfectants do, so these products will list the ingredients they contain. 

Studies show that disinfectant products containing at least 62–71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite can remove a virus within one minute. 

You can also use diluted household bleach solutions for disinfecting. But you should never mix cleaning chemicals and detergents, or chemical-based products with natural-based chemicals such as vinegar-based detergents.

The use of cleaning wipes against COVID-19

You can use wipes to clean surfaces, however, make sure you put the same level of elbow grease into the clean as you would using a cloth and standard spray product. And unless the product is a disinfectant that kills viruses, you may want to use a disinfectant product after you clean.

natural cleaning products vinegar baking soda salt and lemon

Vinegar is a natural disinfectant, however is generally not as effective in this regard as a chemical-based product.

Can you use homemade natural cleaning products, such as vinegar, against COVID-19?

Some natural cleaning alternatives, such as vinegar, have been shown to be useful disinfectants. In the case of vinegar, its acidic properties can fight viruses and bacteria. Generally though, natural cleaning products are not as effective as commercial cleaners and disinfectants, and most natural or 'eco cleaners' are unlikely to kill the COVID-19 virus.

Do not mix natural cleaning products with bleach or other chemical products. For example, don't clean a surface with vinegar then follow up with a bleach-based disinfected as it can create a toxic gas

The manufacturers of the popular toxic-free eco-friendly Koh Universal Cleaner, for example, say: "Although Koh Universal Cleaner has proved effective against a common class of bacteria (campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli), it is not a sanitiser or disinfectant, which means it will not kill viruses such as COVID-19."

If you do decide to use natural cleaning products, it's important that you do not mix these with bleach or other chemical products. For example, don't clean a surface with vinegar then follow up with a bleach-based disinfectant as it can create a toxic gas.

We're in this together

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, CHOICE will be here to help. We'll be working with you to stand up for consumer rights, calling out bad business practice via our investigative journalism, and providing regular expert advice and resources.

As a nonprofit organisation, we depend on your support. If you can, please consider making a donation so we can do even more in future.

delivered parcels packages left on front doorstep

It's safe to receive packages, but it's wise to put a few precautions in place.

Surfaces the virus lives on

As this is a new strain of coronavirus, it is not yet clear how long the COVID-19 virus lives on surfaces. 

Some studies have shown similar viruses, such as SARS, can live on surfaces such as plastic or glass for up to nine days. 

Preliminary studies on COVID-19 have shown it may persist on surfaces such as cardboard for up to 24 hours (however it's not yet clear how long it will last on fabric or clothing) and on other surfaces anywhere from a few hours up to several days (but this could vary under different conditions, such as surface-type, temperature or humidity). 

If you think a surface may be contaminated, ensure you clean and disinfect while wearing gloves. 

Online shopping: safely receiving parcels and packages

Though the virus is thought to last longer on hard surfaces such as plastic or steel than on cardboard or paper items, if you're receiving packages from an online delivery person or postie, ask them to leave the parcel at the door. Many retailers have announced this week that they will not be requiring signatures and are happy to leave the parcel for you in a designated space.

The World Health Organization says the risk of catching the virus from a package that has been through the postal system (or handled and exposed to different conditions and temperatures) is low. 

If you're receiving a parcel for online delivery that may have had a shorter transit time, either avoid touching it or bringing it into your home for 24 hours, or open it with gloves and dispose of packaging immediately. 

If the parcel is wrapped in plastic, you may like to disinfect it before you open it.

Tips for effective cleaning against coronavirus

  • Wear gloves.
  • Use a clean cloth or disposable paper towel.
  • Cleaning: Pay special attention to the bathroom and toilet, as well as frequently touched surfaces such as tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs and cabinet handles, and personal items such as mobile phones. 
  • Disinfecting: Be sure to follow the instructions on products or they could be ineffective. Be careful not to mix different cleaning products, such as bleach with vinegar, as this can create dangerous solutions. For the disinfectant to be as effective as possible, make sure it has contact with the surface for at least 5–10 minutes to kill bacteria and viruses. 
  • Dispose of gloves and cleaning cloth (or wash thoroughly) and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

The best way to dispose of gloves after cleaning

how to remove gloves

Image credit: Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information on cleaning and hygiene in relation to COVID-19, we encourage you to check out the following links:

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