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How to Clean to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19

We’re all concerned, right now, about the COVID-19 outbreak and what we can do to protect ourselves and others from this devastating disease. It’s easy to find the basic recommendations; stay inside if at all possible, wash your hands regularly, cough into your elbow not your hand, etc.

What is less clear is whether, and how, you should clean your surroundings. What about your clothes?

Here are some things you should do to protect your family:

At Home

  • Clean and disinfect any surfaces in your home that are visibly dirty. Wear disposable gloves when doing so and dispose of them correctly. (If you use reusable gloves, they must be used for no other purpose. Start by cleaning with soap and water, then use an EPA-registered household disinfectant or a household bleach solution with at least 1000ppm sodium hypochlorite (follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Clean high touch surfaces. This means tables, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, keyboards, desks, toilets, sinks, etc. Clean electronics using alcohol-based wipes and then dry them thoroughly. The virus may survive (although not necessarily thrive) for two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces. Don’t forget your keys.
  • Do laundry regularly. Ordinary laundry detergent is, like hand soap, enough to remove any virus that might be clinging to your clothes. If the person wearing the clothes is sick, then wear disposable gloves to handle the dirty laundry. Launder on the warmest water setting suitable for the clothes. Dry everything completely. You can mix laundry from a sick person with that from others. Be sure to wash bedding regularly. Don’t shake dirty clothing (or rugs). Clean and disinfect your laundry hamper if you use one. You don’t need to clean the inside of the laundry machine (the laundry cycle will be sufficient).
  • When returning from an errand or work outside the home, you should change your clothes. If you can’t do laundry every day (for example if you don’t have your own washer/dryer), then keep your outside clothes separate from your inside clothes.
  • Wash your hands after cleaning, even if you were wearing gloves. Most people will transfer material from the outside of the gloves to their hands when they take them off, no matter how careful they are.
  • If using reusable cleaning clothes, disinfect them or launder them at a high temperature. However, you should use disposable paper towels as much as possible. Avoid using sponges as they can trap germs over time and are harder to clean.
  • Disposable towels, gloves, etc should be deposited in a lined trash can, with a bag which can be properly sealed afterwards. Never put them in an unlined bin and then transfer them to a lined one later.
  • Do not use drinking alcohol to soak wipes or make a home-made cleaning solution. Even the most potent of beverages fall well short of the 70% alcohol required to kill viruses. (High proof everclear is an exception).
  • Wash  cans, bottles, and similar before putting them in the pantry. Disinfecting food is excessive (and potentially dangerous). Wash your hands after putting shopping away.

In the Office

While everyone who can work from home should, some people are dealing with highly sensitive materials or have to work on-site IT. If you absolutely have to go into the office, consider the following:

  • Don’t forget your high-touch surfaces there, and don’t assume the janitor has handled everything. Wipe off your desk, keyboard, touch screens, etc. Clean when you get there in the morning and after a coworker visits your office (which should be kept to a minimum).
  • Don’t let anyone else use your computer, phone, or desk during this time, even if you aren’t there. If you can lock your office, do. If you normally do flex work, clean everything at the start and end of your shift. Avoid hot desking, and ask if you can instead use the desk of somebody who is working from home for the duration.
  • If your employer doesn’t put up social distancing reminders and other signs, consider putting one on your office door, or asking them to do so.
  • If you have any symptoms whatsoever that even might be COVID-19, stay home. Even if you’re sure it’s your allergies.
  • Eat lunch at your desk, not in the lunch room or even an outdoor area that is shared heavily with others. (And don’t forget to wash your hands before eating. If soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer).

In your Car

Some people are taking sanity drives in lieu of outdoor activities. Others may still have to commute. It is important to keep your car clean. For right now:

  • Don’t give rides to anyone not in your household unless it is some kind of major emergency. Offer to run the errand for them instead.
  • Clean high-touch surfaces here too. That starts with the steering wheel, but also includes door handles, control knobs, touchscreens, gearsticks, etc. If you are switching drivers, clean between drivers. Otherwise, clean when you get into the car. Make sure that you use the right products; don’t use bleach here as it can damage your upholstery. Alcohol-based wipes are the best method. Also avoid ammonia-based cleaners on touch screens.
  • If you have leather upholstery, wipe it down gently with a microfiber cloth so as not to damage the color. Soap and water is enough to deal with the virus. Avoid using alcohol wipes on leather. Use leather conditioner regularly to prevent your leather from being damaged. Cloth upholstery can be cleaned with a small amount of water and laundry detergent.
  • If you get sick, you may want to consider getting your car professionally and thoroughly cleaned before anyone else drives it.

The primary way COVID-19 is transmitted is through close contact with an infected person. However, keeping everything in your environment clean can help keep it from spreading between household members, especially if you have somebody who is high risk. You don’t have to use anything special; regular household cleaners and laundry detergent are enough. However, it’s vital to be aware of which surfaces in your home, office, and car need to be cleaned.

Sarah Parker


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