Maybe you did a deep clean of your home when you found out just how serious the new coronavirus was. But now that you’re social distancing and not leaving the house very often ― maybe just a rare pharmacy run, a daily walk outside ― you might be wondering how often you should still be disinfecting.
First, it is important to understand why you need to disinfect surfaces in the first place. The virus spreads when a person coughs or sneezes respiratory droplets. These can spread “onto hard surfaces or onto our hands, which we then touch things with, transferring virus from our hands to the surfaces we touch,” said S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital.
The virus can survive on different surfaces for various lengths of time. “And then we can pick it up,” Long said. “If we touch our face, we are at risk of infecting ourselves. So cleaning those ‘high touch’ surfaces, where lots of hands could be depositing and picking up viruses or other germs, is very important.”
The regularity of cleaning and disinfecting depends on your particular situation and what’s evolving around you.
Even if no one in your household is ill, you should still “clean regularly and disinfect daily” as a baseline precautionary measure, said Alexa Mieses, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“There’s a difference between cleaning and disinfecting,” she said. “You should be doing a regular cleaning routine, which includes removing dirt and dust, and regular household cleaning products are fine for this.”
When you are disinfecting, however, you are trying to kill germs. “For this, you should use bleach or a cleaner with 70% alcohol,” Mieses said. She noted the Environmental Protection Agency has a list of approved disinfectants for COVID-19, but bleach and alcohol are the most commonly used in the home.
Long said just how often you should disinfect depends on whether you are in the high-risk category for COVID-19, how many people live in your home, and how often you all share common items and surfaces. Though there’s no hard and fast rule, he said, you should probably disinfect surfaces every time you have a visitor of any kind, and disinfect more frequently if you’re high-risk or have a family member working outside the home.
You probably don’t need to clean your whole house from top to bottom every day, but rather focus on “high-touch surfaces,” Mieses said.
“When we are talking about high-touch surfaces, we mean doorknobs, tables, sinks, light switches, remote controls, toilets, handles to anything, cabinets” or other items your family uses or touches frequently, Mieses explained. Car keys, sunglasses and other items you may touch a lot (and take outside the home) are good items to clean, too.
How often you should clean if someone in your house has COVID-19 symptoms
If someone in your home is experiencing coronavirus symptoms, you will want to disinfect surfaces more — as often as those who aren’t ill might come into contact with them.
“If the person with symptoms is well enough, I would encourage them to clean and sanitize their own areas if they are self-isolating as much as they can,” Long said. “I would clean and disinfect the shared surfaces much more frequently.”
Mieses said you may want to wear gloves to “protect yourself from harsh chemicals and minimize your risk” of becoming infected with the virus. Wash your hands very frequently as well ― especially if you ever touch something the person with symptoms may have touched. Remember to wash for at least 20 seconds to effectively kill germs, and keep in mind that soap and water is better than hand sanitizer.
When disinfecting, give those high-touch surfaces extra attention, since “lots of hands could be depositing and picking up viruses or other germs,” Long said. “And don’t forget about cellphones as well.”
Other ways to keep healthy in your home
For your own safety, Long said to make sure you do not mix disinfectants and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
“Also, no matter how often you are disinfecting, you still need to practice social distancing and wash your hands,” he said.
If you have any questions about your personal COVID-19 risk or best practices, Mieses said don’t be afraid to reach out to your family physician or primary care provider. Beyond that, focus on being smart.
“Stay at home, wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, avoid shared equipment like fitness equipment,” she said. “But stay active during the pandemic. You can still go outside for a walk; make it part of your routine.”
You should also focus on mental wellness, in addition to physical health. “This is not the first time the world has encountered something like this, but it’s the first time for our generation,” Mieses said, adding that feelings of anxiety and depression are a typical response to what’s happening.
If you are struggling with anxiety or mental health issues during this crisis, Mieses said to reach out to your regular physician. They can direct you to a mental health professional who can help. (You can also try one of these other mental health resources here.) Take care of your whole self.