How to Sanitize Your Home and Stay Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Dr. Surya Bhagwati on Mar 27, 2020
With the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of abating, it’s up to us to do everything we can to slow its spread. This means protecting ourselves, our families, and those around us, especially the most vulnerable. While social distancing is the most important thing that you can do in this regard it is also important to pay more heed to hygiene.
Sanitization and disinfection of your home and surroundings is something that you can actively do lower the risk of contagion. Although contact with contaminated surfaces is not the primary mode of transmission of COVID-19, it can increase your risk. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contact with contaminated surfaces is a likely secondary mode of infection.
Before you attempt to clean and disinfect your home in panic, take a breath and calm down. To effectively disinfect your home and lower the risk of coronavirus infection, find out which products work, how you should use them, and which areas of your house require your attention.
Disinfectants and Cleansers to Sanitize Your Home
Not every cleanser is effective at killing microorganisms like the coronavirus and some are only effective for bacteria or weaker viral strains. Here are the different categories of cleansers.
If you’re looking to thoroughly disinfect and kill any pathogen in your house, nothing’s more effective than sodium hyperchlorite – the active ingredient in bleach. Bleach is so effective as it destroys the protein and RNA, which is the defining feature of any virus.
When cleaning with bleach, make sure to follow package directions and leave it on the surface for at least 10-15 minutes before mopping or wiping down.
Surgical Spirit or Ethanol
Surgical spirit or alcohol ethanol is one of the most powerful disinfectants you can find. It is therefore a common ingredient in many of the best disinfectants and sanitizers. From research, we know that ethanol can kill most types of coronavirus in about half a minute of exposure. It works in the same manner as bleach, destroying the virus’ RNA.
When using surgical spirit or any ethanol-based cleanser, you simply need to moisten a cloth with the solution and rub it over the surface area. The point is to apply the solution over the area, not to rub it or wipe it off, as such liquids evaporate rapidly.
Depending on the type and quality of surface wipes, efficacy of such products can vary. Many contain antiseptics like benzalkonium chloride, which can kill germs, while some may also have natural antiseptics. The main benefit of such products is that they can help physically remove pathogens from surfaces, but they are unlikely to kill the virus itself.
Hand sanitizers are extremely useful for disinfection, especially for personal hygiene when you are forced to step outdoors and come in contact with surfaces. Hand sanitizers can also be used to clean household surfaces if needed. They are so effective because of the same primary ingredient in surgical spirit – ethanol. If you are looking for natural or herbal sanitizers, these should also contain alcohol to have any efficacy. An Ayurvedic herbal sanitizer would probably list the alcohol as prasanna or madya.
Soap and Water
As stated by health care authorities across the world, soap and water is your first defense against the virus. This is true with hand washing, but there’s a caveat. Almost all soaps and detergents will simply help to remove the virus and allow it be flushed away with water. However, these products will not kill the virus. This means that soaps and detergents, although helpful for hand washing, are not of much use when disinfecting household surfaces.
When using chemical-based disinfectants and cleansers like bleach, you need to exercise great caution. Bleach and other chemicals can be toxic if ingested or inhaled and can also cause severe skin and eye irritation. Make sure to use gloves and ensure good ventilation when using these products. If you’re using herbal Ayurvedic cleansers with ingredients like neem and aloe, this isn’t a concern at all.
When using bleach, make sure to dilute it precisely as directed and avoid mixing it with any other products as this can be deadly. Also keep in mind that bleach isn’t suitable for cleansing all surfaces as it can damage or discolor some surfaces.
Areas of Focus When Disinfecting Your Home
Because of the relative novelty of the COVID-19 virus, there is a lack of extensive research, but we are learning more each day. Studies show that the coronavirus has different survival times on different surfaces. Plastic and stainless steel surfaces deserve the most attention when disinfecting, as the virus could survive on such surfaces for up to nine days. On the other hand, paper and cardboard surfaces were found to be most inhospitable to the virus, with survival times of no more than a day.
Keeping this in mind and the efficacy of the various disinfectants that we have already discussed, you should focus on cleansing the following areas in your house.
- Kitchen and cabinet counters
- Door knobs, door handles, door bells, and all switches
- Remote controls, keyboards, joysticks, and other frequently used devices
- Laptops, tablets, and phones
- The outside of your wallet or bottom and handle of your purse
- Mattresses, cushions, and other upholstery that cannot be washed frequently may be cleansed with disinfectant sprays
Things You Bring into Your Home
Despite the lockdowns and social distancing measures, trips to the ATM, grocery store, or pharmacist can be unavoidable. When you return with groceries and other supplies, you need to be aware of the risk of surface contamination. Every item that you purchase and bring into your home, from the packaging to the individual items, is handled by a chain of people – the employee who stocks the shelves, the cashier, and other customers who may have handled the product before.
This makes the cleansing and sanitizing of all things you bring into the house more important than other household cleansing. Wipe the surfaces of all bottles, cans, plastic bags or boxes, and other containers with disinfectants like sanitizer before you put them in your cabinet or fridge. For the same reason, it would also be a good idea to put your clothes to wash with detergent each time you enter your home. Similarly, it would be a good idea to cleanse your car’s steering wheel, dashboard, and door handles each time you return home.
While disinfection and sanitation of household surfaces is important to stay safe, it is not the only measure you can take. Ayurved offers a wealth of wisdom on herbs and natural ingredients that can raise immunity levels, improving your chances of fighting off infections.
- Transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/transmission.html
- “5 Steps To Clean And Disinfect Your Home.” MCI - Gov.SG, Government of Singapore, www.gov.sg/article/5-steps-to-clean-and-disinfect-homes-possibly-exposed-to-ncov
- COVID-19: Resources for Households. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/cleaning-disinfection.html
- Kampf, G., et al. “Persistence of Coronaviruses on Inanimate Surfaces and Their Inactivation with Biocidal Agents.” Journal of Hospital Infection, vol. 104, no. 3, Mar. 2020, pp. 246–251., doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2020.01.022
- Doremalen, Neeltje Van, et al. “Aerosol and Surface Stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Compared to SARS-CoV-1.” The New England Journal of Medicine, 17 Mar. 2020, doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973