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March 13, 2020

How to Sanitize Your House: Tips from an Infectious Disease Physician

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Viruses can live on objects and surfaces from a few hours to a few days. Good hand hygiene is key and the most important habit to avoid illness, including coronavirus (COVID-19), but it’s also helpful to disinfect household surfaces and other commonly touched objects.

Related: COVID-19: Expert Advice from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Juan Dumois, M.D., a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital shares some best practices for sanitizing your home.

What’s the difference between cleaning and sanitizing?

Cleaning is when an object that has dirt, grime or goop is washed or wiped off. This is an important step in successful sanitizing, which is treating a surface with a chemical intent to kill most germs (viruses and bacteria).

How often should we clean our frequently touched items?

The concern is when a family member gets sick and could potentially infect items around the house, like light switches, door knobs, faucets and countertops. It depends on where the objects are located and who is touching them.

If the objects are in your home and nobody is sick, just clean as you normally do because the only organisms on them are your normal bacteria, which are harmless.

Otherwise, disinfect the object after the sick person has touched them.

What about:

  • Phones – It isn’t very practical to sanitize often for people frequently on their phone, walking from place to place. These persons are more at risk for contaminating their phones with viruses in between using their phone. It would be tough to for them to constantly clean the phone; therefore, disinfecting hands often would be most appropriate.
  • Clothing – Most viruses do not last very long on absorbent surfaces like fabrics; therefore, they would not easily be transmitted, so regular washing is fine. In general, hot water is better than cold and the dryer aids in killing a lot of the bacteria and viruses.
  • Baby toys – These should be sanitized whenever they’ve been touched by a sick child and before being handled by a non-sick child. It is not a good idea to have baby toys in group settings or in waiting rooms because of the inability to clean them in between children.

Does it matter what product I use?

Most household cleansers will kill viruses. Buy what you can afford and what is most convenient, whether it’s a disinfectant, alcohol, bleach or chlorine – it doesn’t matter.

If you’re able to get a hold of bleach, you can make your own diluted bleach cleaner; 1 part bleach and 10 parts water. This is bleach and may discolor some surfaces.

The longer the product sits on the surface or object, the better sanitation it will provide. It advisable to rinse hands after cleaning to remove the detergents that might be irritating/drying to skin as developing dermatitis is much more common after repeated exposure to chemicals.

Related: EPA’s List of Approved Disinfectants against coronavirus 

Also be aware of using a product that could damage what you’re cleaning. For example, cell phone manufacturers have sanitizing recommendations.

Handwashing is the best defense

If you do proper hand hygiene, it doesn’t matter whether a surface is contaminated.

Continue teaching and monitoring good handwashing among all members of your family, especially before they eat, drink or touch their faces.

Have hand sanitizer readily available at all times, and do not forget to use it frequently and correctly. Soap and water should be used for 20 seconds and 15 seconds for hand sanitizer.

Dr. Juan Dumois
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