Basic home cleaning can reduce the spread of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is scary, but some basic home cleaning can reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect your family and increase your sense of control in an uncertain time.

How is the virus spread?

It’s believed that COVID-19 is spread mainly by coughing, sneezing or direct contact with someone who is sick with the virus or by contact with surfaces that infected people have recently touched.

That’s why social distancing, frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your face (including your nose and mouth), and cleaning potentially dangerous surfaces all help reduce the spread of the virus.

How long does the virus survive outside the human body?

There’s no definitive answer to that, but coronaviruses in general are resilient and can survive for some time once they’re expelled from the body through sneezing or coughing.

A study by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard and two to three days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces. That makes door handles and other hard household surfaces potentially dangerous.

Fortunately, a simple cleaning can reduce much of the risk.

How & what to clean

If a household member is sick with COVID-19, you’ll need to take special precautions when cleaning your home (see below). Otherwise, Health Canada recommends frequent cleaning of the following often-touched surfaces:

  • toys
  • toilets
  • phones
  • electronics
  • door handles
  • bedside tables
  • television remotes

Health Canada recommends using regular household cleaners or diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) to clean these surfaces. Remember: never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleaners because toxic fumes form.

And don’t discount the power of soap and water.

“We do tend to dismiss good old-fashioned soap (e.g. dishwashing liquid) as an effective disinfectant for cleaning surfaces,” Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, told Global News recently. “While not convenient outside of the house, it is important to remember that it is a fantastic line of defence.”

If you choose to use a commercial disinfectant, Alberta Health Services says to make sure it has a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and a virucidal claim.

Remember that if a surface is dirty or greasy, you’ll need to clean it with soap and water before applying a disinfectant. If you don’t clean it first, the disinfectant will have trouble reaching the germs beneath the dirt and grime.

Kindrachuk said hand sanitizers will also be less effective if your hands are dirty. Like other experts, he also said plain old soap and water works just fine on hands.

When it comes to anti-COVID-19 product claims, Health Canada’s website says, “We have also not approved any disinfectant products with claims specific to COVID-19. However, authorized disinfectant products can make a claim of broad spectrum of activity against viruses if they meet specific evidence standards. We are working with companies and we will publish a list of disinfectant products that can make this claim to help Canadians make effective choices.”

Cleaning your phone

Because we use our phones so much and COVID-19 can live for some time on hard surfaces, it’s wise to occasionally clean your phone.

Apple says you can gently clean the surfaces of your iPhone with 70 per cent isopropyl alcohol or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. It cautions not to use bleach, to avoid getting moisture in openings, and not to submerge your iPhone in any cleaning agents.

Be gentle when cleaning touchscreens.

You’ll find more information on cleaning your phone here. These instructions may not apply to non-Apple brands.

Disinfecting your home if someone is sick

Sick household members should stay in a separate room and, if possible, use a separate bathroom, according to Alberta Health Services.

The Center for Disease Control provides detailed information on cleaning your home if someone living with you has COVID-19.

Recommendations include regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces like tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks. Use household cleaners and disinfectants, but wear disposable gloves when cleaning.

Extra precautions need to be taken with laundry and some other household tasks. That includes cleaning and disinfecting clothes hampers.

If you choose to use a commercial disinfectant for cleaning surfaces, Alberta Health Services says to make sure it has a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and a virucidal claim.

A last word

While COVID-19 attacks the body, our emotional health can also take a hit during a pandemic. The CDC cautions us all to take care of our mental well-being during this time and reminds us that children react differently to emergency situations and may need special attention.

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