The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

ACI Answers Coronavirus Cleaning Questions

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The novel coronavirus has left many of us with questions about how to best clean to protect ourselves and our families. We're cleaning experts and have been working hard the last few weeks to share reliable information on cleaning, and disinfecting, for coronavirus. Please see answers to some of the commonly asked questions below.

Product Safety

Q: Is it safe to mix cleaning products together?

A: Never mix cleaning products, as the ingredients can react to form a toxic gas. It’s important to always use products as directed on the product label.

Q: Is it safe to use disinfectant spray on skin?

A: No, disinfectant spray is not meant to be used on the skin. Never use disinfectant spray on yourself or another person. Always use products as directed on the label.

Your best defense is washing your hands, frequently, with soap and water for at least twenty seconds.

Q: Is it safe to let my child use hand sanitizer on their own?

A: Always supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent accidental poisonings. Squirt a dollop of sanitizer into your child’s hands and make sure they are rubbing their hands in front of you. This also helps you make sure your child is using the product properly to get the full benefit.

Q: What are best practices for storing cleaning products safely?

A: As soon as you’re done cleaning or disinfecting, put the product away. If you have young children in the home, make sure these products are located in a safe place that is out of sight and out of reach of children. This is also important for detergent products, including liquid laundry packets.

For a free safety reminder cling to attach to your washing machine, visit ACI’s PacketsUp.com website.

Q: I have a pet that licks everything. Can I use disinfectants in my home without making my pet sick?

A: When used as directed, disinfectants cause no harm to pets. After using the disinfectant, let the surface air dry and then rinse with water.

Q: Is it safe to use bar soap to wash your hands?

A: Washing your hands with either liquid or bar soap for at least 20 seconds is effective. While WebMD reports that some research has “found that bacteria can stay on bar soap that stays wet because it gets used frequently... [other] studies that have looked to see whether that’s a problem show that the bacteria don’t seem to transfer to the next user.” So the greater threat is not washing your hands thoroughly. Use whatever type of soap you prefer.

Which Products Disinfect

Q: Are essential oils effective against the coronavirus?

A: The EPA has a list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. There are many cleaners with different active ingredients on this list, which you can use to find the product that best fits your preferences.

Q: Can I use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect surfaces?

A: The typical 3 percent hydrogen peroxide concentration you buy at the drugstore can be used to disinfect surfaces. Remember to pre-clean the surface before applying the hydrogen peroxide. After you've applied the hydrogen peroxide, let the surface air dry for at least one minute before wiping.

If you're using a cleaner that contains hydrogen peroxide, check the product label to see how long the cleaner needs to sit on the surface before wiping.

Always make sure to check the concentration of hydrogen peroxide on the product label before using. Never mix hydrogen peroxide with vinegar, bleach or any other cleaners.

Q: Can I use vinegar to disinfect surfaces?

A: While vinegar does have bacteria-killing properties, it is not listed as an approved disinfectant by the EPA, which has a great resource on disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2.

Q: Can I use drinking alcohol to disinfect surfaces?

A: No, alcohol solutions need to contain at least 70 percent alcohol to be effective on hard surfaces against the coronavirus which causes COVID-19. Most alcoholic beverages contain concentrations below this amount. Furthermore, for families with children in the home, there are safety concerns with using drinking alcohol.

If you want to use alcohol to clean, make sure it’s 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Start by pre-cleaning the surface with soap and water or a cleaner designed for use on the surface. Apply the alcohol solution to the surface (don’t dilute it) and let it air dry for at least 30 seconds before wiping. If you have children in the home, make sure you put the isopropyl alcohol away, out of sight and out of reach, as soon as you are finished using it.

Q: My disinfecting wipes have dried out. Is there something I can add to them that will make them work again?

A: That’s unfortunate. However, because the wipes are formulated very carefully to kill germs, adding different ingredients could affect how they work, and in the worst case, the ingredients could interact with each other in a way that is dangerous.

Q: Can I make my own “bleach wipes”?

A: Because things like increased temperatures, contamination and even light can cause the active ingredient in bleach to break down into salt and water, we don’t recommend storing diluted bleach solutions for long periods of time. To ensure the disinfecting solution is effective, you’ll want to use a freshly mixed solution and throw away any leftover solution from the day before.

Before mixing, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Make sure the bleach hasn’t expired, and never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleaners.

To prepare a bleach solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.

How to Clean and Disinfect

Q: What is the correct way to use bleach to disinfect surfaces?

A: Always check the label to see if your bleach is appropriate for the surface, intended for disinfection and not expired. Follow instructions on the product label for application and proper ventilation. Never mix household bleach with any other cleanser.

To make a bleach solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. Leave the solution on the surface for at least a minute.

If disinfecting toys or food contact surfaces, rinse with water after the solution has sat on the surface for at least a minute.

Q: Can I use one disinfecting wipe on multiple surfaces?

A: Reusing a single disinfecting wipe on multiple surfaces may move germs from one surface to another. To be safe, use one wipe per surface.

Q: Can I flush disinfecting wipes?

A: No, throw out disinfecting wipes after using. Do not flush any non-flushable products.

Q: If I’m using a disinfectant spray, how long do I need to wait before I can wipe the surface or rinse with water?

A: Check the product label for the exact time. It’s different for every product but generally ranges from 30 seconds to several minutes.

Q: What is the correct way to clean my phone?

A: Always follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfecting. If no instructions are available, use a dry, soft cloth to remove debris and fingerprints, then use alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70 percent alcohol. Let the disinfectant sit on the surface for as long as recommended on the product label.

Always unplug your phone before attempting to clean it and never spray your device directly.

Q: What is the best way to disinfect counters?

A: Pre-clean first to remove any excess dirt or grime, with soap and water or a cleaner designed for use on the surface. Then use a disinfectant on the EPA list of products effective against COVID-19. Follow the instructions on the label, paying attention to amount of time the surface needs to stay wet after disinfecting. The product label will specify which surfaces it can be used on. For food contact surfaces, rinse with water after it dries. This will not only help against the novel coronavirus, but also against other food-borne microbes that can cause illness.

Q: I’m trying to clean granite/marble countertops. Do sealers help at all?

A: For any porous stone, like granite or marble, some cleaning products are only recommended for use on sealed surfaces. Therefore, sealers can help ensure you can clean properly without damaging the stone.

Q: What is the best way to disinfect carpeting?

A: Use a cleaner that is appropriate for carpeting, according to the label or disinfect with a disinfectant on the EPA list (there are some that work on soft surfaces). If disinfecting, pay particular attention to getting the carpet to stay wet for the necessary amount of time noted on the label. The CDC has additional advice for cleaning soft surfaces.

Q: How can I disinfect my car?

A: You can use a disinfectant spray or disinfecting wipes on most automobile surfaces. When in doubt, always check the product label to make sure it can be used on the surface you want to disinfect. Let the spray or wipe air dry as per product label directions so that the virus kill can take place.

Focus on the steering well, including the levers nearby. Don’t forget the door handles and the center console.

If you’re low on disinfectants, you can use soap and water to inactivate the virus.

Do not use bleach or hydrogen peroxide, as they can damage the car’s upholstery. Depending on the fabric, you may need a specialty cleaner. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning seats to determine which cleaner is safe for the fabric.

Q: How frequently should I be disinfecting household surfaces?

A: The CDC guidance is to clean and disinfect as needed, so frequency will depend on how often a surface is touched. In general, you should be disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces every few days and food preparation surfaces more frequently. Examples of frequently-touched surfaces include doorknobs, light switches, tables, keyboards, handles, toilets, faucets and sinks.

If someone is ill in the house, you’ll need to be even more vigilant: the CDC has useful guidelines for this.

Q: What can I use to wipe besides paper towels?

A: If you’re out of paper towels, our first recommendation would be to shift to either a microfiber cloth or a washcloth that can be laundered after use. Sponges, which tend to stay moist and can be a breeding ground for bacteria, are a last resort to take the place of paper towels when disinfecting.

Q: Can I clean latex gloves and reuse them?

A: Per the CDC, you should dispose of gloves after using them. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after removing the gloves.

Q: Can vacuum cleaners spread the coronavirus?

A: According to the CDC, the risk of transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19 during vacuuming is unknown. At this time, there are no reported cases of COVID-19 associated with vacuuming. That being said, unfiltered vacuum cleaners can release particles containing dust, which have the potential to carry viruses. If you are concerned about this risk, you can use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum cleaner, which may help trap small airborne particles.

There are other precautions you can take as well to reduce the risk of exposure. The CDC says that the virus can be tracked on the soles of shoes, so it’s a good idea to keep your shoes off when you’re at home to minimize the risk of transferring the virus to your flooring in the first place.

Consider wearing a face covering when emptying the vacuum into the garbage. Remember not to touch your face when vacuuming and wash your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds once you’re finished.

Hand Hygiene

Q: I can’t find hand sanitizer at the stores. Should I make my own?

A: We strongly recommend against trying to make your own hand sanitizer at home, as getting the product formulation just right is tricky. Many commercially-available hand sanitizers are made of a precise combination of alcohol and emollients which help moisturize and soften the skin, and when you’re mixing at home, you can’t guarantee that the final product will have the right concentration of alcohol. A mix too strong could damage your skin; a mix too weak will be ineffective.

Whether you have hand sanitizer or not, the best way you can protect yourself is to wash your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. Any kind of soap will do.

Q: Does the water need to be hot when I’m washing my hands?

A: The temperature of the water when you’re washing your hands is more a preference of comfort. When you wash your hands with soap and water, the soap molecules surround the bacteria and viruses and either kills them by rupturing their membranes or allows water to wash them down the drain. What’s most important is scrubbing with soap thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.

Q: Is it okay to share hand towels with the people you live with?

A: If everyone in the household is healthy, it’s okay to share hand towels. The important thing is that the towel is clean. Towels should be hung to dry between uses and washed after 3-5 normal uses.

If someone in your household is sick, that person should use their own hand towel.

Groceries

Q: Should I clean goods from the grocery store before bringing them into my home?

A: The most important things are to minimize exposure at the grocery store by keeping distance between shoppers, to avoid touching your face – and frequently-touched surfaces, if possible – and to wash your hands as soon as you get home.

After putting away groceries, wash your hands, clean and disinfect the counter where the groceries were sitting and put any reusable bags in the laundry. For the groceries themselves, they’re packaged in a hard container (like glass or rigid plastic), you can wipe them down with a disinfectant wipe or a cloth dipped in diluted bleach solution, but in general these will items will have less chance of exposure and aren’t as much of a concern.

Q: How should I clean reusable grocery bags?

A: We have a resource for cleaning reusable grocery bags based on what they’re made of. Generally, woven and non-woven polypropylene, cotton, bamboo or hemp bags can go in the washing machine and then line dry. Bags made of cotton can also go in the dryer. For nylon, polyester or insulated bags, hand wash them with soap and water or wipe them down with disinfecting wipes. Be sure to clean the bags after each use.

Q: How should I clean produce? Does COVID-19 spread through food?

A: Public health officials don’t believe COVID-19 is spreading through consuming food. Still, it’s a good idea to practice safe food handling practices, which will protect you against other food-borne microbes that can cause illness. Clean fruits and vegetables by gently rubbing the produce (before peeling) under running water. Remember to wash your hands before and after.

Q: Can I wash fruits and vegetables with soap?

A: No, never wash produce with soap. The microscopic pores of fruits and vegetables can absorb soap residue. This soap residue would then end up in your body when you eat the food. Soap and dish detergent are not meant for human consumption.

Simply rinse fruits and vegetables under running water before you cook or eat them.

Laundry

Q: How can I disinfect my clothing?

A: If you are concerned about possible contamination on your clothing, washing and/or drying your clothes at a high temperature will help kill the virus, as will detergents that contain bleach. Do not use disinfectant sprays on clothing.

Only wash clothes with hot water and/or bleach if it is safe for the fabric. Always check the garment’s care label for instructions.

If your clothing may have been contaminated but can’t be washed and/or dried at a high temperature, you can seal the garments in a plastic bag. After several days, the virus should no longer be at infectious levels.

Q: What precautions do I need to take when I’m going to the laundromat or communal laundry room?

A: Take disinfecting wipes with you and use them to wipe down surfaces that are frequently touched (doorknobs, washer and dryer doors and buttons). If disinfecting wipes are not available, use a disinfecting spray bottle with paper towels. As an extra precaution, wearing gloves could also be helpful. Just be sure not to touch your face.

Once you return from the laundromat or communal laundry room, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Q: How should I do laundry if someone in my home is sick with COVID-19?

A: When handling dirty laundry from a sick person, wear disposable gloves. Do not shake the dirty laundry. This will minimize the possibility of the virus spreading through the air. You can wash dirty laundry from a person who is sick with other people’s items. Use the warmest water setting (at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit) as recommended on the label to wash the clothes. Use the sanitize cycle if your washing machine has one.

After you’ve put the load into the wash, remove the gloves, dispose of them and wash your hands right away. Dry laundry on hot, if possible, or the steam cycle if your dryer has one. Wash your hands after putting the clothes in the dryer.

Be sure to clean and disinfect the clothes hamper, as well. Wash your hands after.

Q: What’s the best way to wash clothes by hand?

A: Hand wash with the warmest water allowed by the care label with the appropriate dose of detergent. Ideally allow the garment to soak for 20-30 minutes before rinsing. Follow care label instructions for drying, but if allowed, dry completely in a dryer. Otherwise hang or lay flat to air dry. Then wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Q: If I go outside, should I change my clothes right after I come home? Do I need to wash them immediately?

A: If you’re going to work daily, it may be a good idea to change into different clothes when you get home and designate a separate bag to store the clothes you’ve worn to work. You can wait until you have a full load to wash these clothes.

According to the CDC, the novel coronavirus can be tracked on the soles of shoes, so it’s a good idea to take off your shoes when you come home.

Q: Do I need to wash laundry loads more than once?

A: One wash should be sufficient; however, if you want to do more, you can add a second rinse to the wash cycle.

Q: What is the correct way to use bleach when doing laundry?

A: See our guide on how to use bleach in laundry. Remember, not all bleach is intended for disinfection, so if that’s your intent for using bleach, check the product label first. Also check to make sure the product hasn’t expired. Always read the fabric care label first to make sure it’s safe to use bleach on that fabric – the fact that an item is white doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it’s safe to use bleach. Never mix chlorine bleach with ammonia, ammonia-based products or acidic products like vinegar.

Q: How should I wash reusable cloth face masks and coverings?

A: Washing with detergent in a washing machine and drying in the dryer is the best way to clean reusable cloth face masks and coverings. The key step for cleaning is the high heat of the dryer.

Q: How often do I need to wash reusable cloth face masks?

A: According to the CDC, reusable cloth face masks and coverings should be routinely washed depending on how often they are worn. If you want to be extra careful, wash and dry masks after every wear.

Q: Can I wash disposable masks?

A: This is not recommended, as the virus protection provided by the mask will decrease with each wash.

Q: Can I spray face masks with antibacterial or alcohol disinfectants to clean them?

A: No, spraying masks with disinfectants is not a safe and effective way to clean them.

Q: Can I microwave or boil face masks to clean them? Can I put face masks in the oven?

A: No, none of these methods are safe or effective, as they may degrade the mask fabric and pose a fire hazard.

Mail and Packages

Q: Should I disinfect my mail and packages?

A: If you want to be extra careful, particularly if you’re in a high-risk group, you can dispose of packaging outside your home and wash your hands immediately after. However, you do not need to disinfect your mail or packages.

Remember that on your way to picking up the mail or packages, you may be touching frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs or elevator buttons. What’s more important is not touching your face while you’re retrieving your mail or packages and washing your hands immediately after. If the frequently touched surface is in your home, remember to disinfect it regularly.

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