Cleaning vs. disinfecting in our new normal

AAC shares cleaning, disinfecting recommendations from experts

By Becky Comet
AAC Member Benefits Manager

Here we are three weeks out from the discovery of the first cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. We are living out what is becoming our new normal. It does not really feel normal yet, however, we are slowly settling into this new way of life. We are figuring out how to live, work, and stay connected with family and friends in a socially distant way. We are learning more about the virus, how it spreads, and what we can do to keep ourselves as safe and healthy as possible.

One of the things that we are doing more of is cleaning and disinfecting the areas in which we live and work. With that in mind we want to arm you with the best information we have on how to clean and disinfect effectively. Today, we are going to share what we have researched about the why, what, and how to best clean the surfaces around you, so you can stay as healthy as possible.

The reason we need to disinfect surfaces around us regularly is that the COVID-19 virus can live in the air and on surfaces for some time. Therefore, if we touch a surface that has not been disinfected or that we have not protected ourselves against and we then touch our face — eyes, nose, or mouth — we then have been officially exposed to the virus.

Researchers have found that this virus can hang out as droplets in the air for up to three hours before they fall to the surfaces around us. But most often they will fall more quickly. A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. A virus can last as long as four days on glass, depending on location and temperature. These numbers pose a problem in several areas that we touch daily.

The coronavirus can exist on stainless steel objects for two to three days. That is a problem because steel is commonly used in public transportation as well as other public places such as restroom stalls, faucets, handrails, and manual paper towel handles.

Plastic objects can harbor the virus for two to three days. That is a special concern because many shared items are made of plastic and may not be sanitized often enough. Take-out food containers, light switches, cellphone cases, keyboards, elevator buttons and more are commonly made of plastics. Since a virus can last as long as four days on glass, items such as cellphone screens, mirrors and inside glass doors can also support the virus.

The virus can last on cardboard for up to 24 hours. That is important considering the use of online delivery services during the coronavirus outbreak instead of going to stores in person. Food products packaged in cardboard could also be a risk. With regards to mail and package delivery, it should be noted that the research shows that even though the virus can be detected on paper and cardboard it does not mean it is still capable of infecting a person.

Joseph Vinetz, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist says, "Detection does not mean transmissible."

Alan Koff, MD, chief fellow of the infectious disease program at Yale School of Medicine, adds that the conditions packages go through may also make it more difficult for the virus to survive. "It is likely that the temperature outside and the length of time the package is in shipping may impact the survival of the virus on that surface," he says.

That's in contrast to the lab settings viruses are usually tested in. With all that said, there is nothing wrong with handling mail and packages with gloves if you feel more comfortable. Hand washing after handling any kind of delivery — paper or cardboard — is advisable.

As part of our new normal and therefore new vocabulary, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says there is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting. The CDC defines cleaning as the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection. Disinfecting involves the use of chemicals to kill pathogens 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.

Here are the recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces:

  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning. If reusable gloves are used, those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and should not be used for other purposes. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately after gloves are removed.
  • If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, and most common Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
    • Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.
      • Prepare a bleach solution by mixing:
        • 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or
        • 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
  • After disinfecting, let the surface air dry as recommended on the product label. Drying the surface with a cloth or paper towel does not allow the necessary time to kill the virus.
  • If using a disinfectant wipe, throw it out after using.

When looking for cleaning products, common cleaners such as Purell, Clorox, and Lysol can take care of the coronavirus according to the EPA. “Using the correct disinfectant is an important part of preventing and reducing the spread of illnesses along with other critical aspects such as hand washing,” says EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The EPA’s recommended list includes:

  • Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Wipes
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
  • Clorox Commercial Solutions Clorox Disinfecting Spray
  • Lysol Heavy-Duty Cleaner Disinfectant Concentrate
  • Lysol brand Clean & Fresh Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • Diluted household bleach solutions, and alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, also are effective against the virus that causes COVID-19, as mentioned above.

To recap, we clean and disinfect for coronavirus because it can live on various, widely used and touched surfaces from hours to days, depending on the surface. Cleaning and disinfecting are two different processes making how they are performed different as well. Cleaning removes dirt and germs with detergent or soap and water. Disinfecting is done with chemicals that kill the pathogens on surfaces. The chemicals used should be allowed to air dry in order kill the virus. The list of what surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected regularly includes, but is not limited to: doorknobs, light switches, handles (like drawer and cabinet pulls, oven doors, buttons and door handles on microwave ovens), hardback chairs, desks, tables, countertops, toilets and toilet flush handles, faucets, sinks, and remote controls.

It should be noted that with regards to our technology — our smartphones, airpods, tablets, and laptops — they need to be cleaned regularly as well. Alcohol wipes should do the trick. According to recently updated information from Apple, “using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your iPhone.” This advice applies to most non-porous tech products as well. However, the company stresses not to use bleach or submerge your iPhone in any cleaning agents.

There it is. Everything you need to know and probably more than you wanted to know about why, how, and what to clean in our new world. To be quite honest, the way to clean has not really changed that much. We just have a reason to be more diligent these days.

Hang in there. Stay in touch and connected. We will get through this and come out better and more prepared on the other side. Lean on each other, in a socially distant way. Stay safe and healthy.

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