How to clean your house to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other infections

Do you know the difference between disinfecting and cleaning?

hand in pink glove cleaning a shower surface

Image: Shutterstock Brett Mitchell, University of Newcastle

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, it’s a good time to understand how cleaning can help prevent the spread of disease and what you can do to cut the risk of infection in your home.

Coronavirus is mainly transmitted from person to person via tiny droplets of saliva or other bodily fluids that float in the air after a cough or sneeze.

Contaminated objects and surfaces can also be important in the transmission of disease. It’s not entirely clear what role they play in transmitting the new coronavirus, but they play an important one for related viruses such as SARS and MERS.

However, it makes sense that something contaminated with the virus could pass it on, for example if a person touches it and then touches their nose, mouth or face.

So, if someone at risk of having the virus has been in your home, cleaning to reduce the amount of contamination on surfaces may help cut down your risk of further transmission of coronavirus. (It will also cut the risk of transmitting other pathogens.)

What’s the difference between cleaning and disinfection?
There’s a useful to distinction to make between cleaning and disinfection.

Cleaning means physically removing organic matter such as germs and dirt from surfaces. Disinfection means using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces.

Cleaning is very important, because organic matter may inhibit or reduce the disinfectant’s ability to kill germs.

Read more: Can coronavirus spread through food? Can anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen make it worse? Coronavirus claims checked by experts

How long will coronavirus survive in my house?
We are not exactly sure how long this coronavirus will survive on surfaces. If it is similar to other coronaviruses, it could survive a few hours – potentially up to several days. How long it survives could depend on temperature, humidity and what the surface is made of.

What could be contaminated in my house?
It’s hard to say exactly. When someone coughs or sneezes, especially if they don’t cover their mouth, it is likely surfaces close to them will be contaminated.

Hands are often responsible for transferring pathogens from one place to another, so items that people often touch are at greatest risk of being contaminated.

Frequently touched items may include TV remotes, fridge doors, kitchen cupboards, kitchen surfaces, taps and door handles. And of course, there are devices such as phones and iPads – but these may not be shared or touched by others frequently.

What should I use to clean and how?
The coronavirus is a delicate structure and it is vulnerable in the environment. Both heat and detergents, including soap, can stop it functioning.

Contaminated surfaces
If a surface becomes contaminated or you think it could be, cleaning it with a common household disinfectant will kill the virus. Remember to wash your hands after cleaning (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser) and avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose.

There are many options for what to use to clean, including paper towels, cloths or disposable wipes.

The S-shaped pattern for cleaning a surface without re-contaminating parts of it. Brett Mitchell, Author provided

How you clean is important. You don’t want to “recontaminate” surfaces while cleaning. Working from one side of a surface to the other helps with this, using an “S” shape to clean.

If you are reusing a cloth, remember to wash it afterwards and let it dry. Laundering cloths in the washing machine with normal washing liquid is also likely to kill the virus, particularly on a hot wash.

Dishes and cutlery
Washing with hot water and detergent is fine for dishes and cutlery. A dishwasher is even better, because it can use hotter water than your hands will tolerate.

Clothing and linen
Use the warmest setting possible to wash contaminated laundry and make sure you allow it to dry completely. You may not want to ruin clothing or other materials, so always look at the manufacturer’s instructions.

Laundry from someone who is sick can be washed with other people’s items. If you are handling contaminated items such as towel or sheets, avoid shaking them before washing, to reduce the risk of contaminating other surfaces.

And remember to wash your hands immediately after touching any contaminated laundry.

Prevention is best
Remember that surfaces play a role in transmitting pathogens, so preventing them from becoming contaminated in the first place is as important as cleaning. There are some things you can do to reduce the amount of contamination of surfaces in your house:

– cover your cough and sneezes, ideally with a tissue but otherwise into your elbow, and wash your hands immediately

– wash your hands often, especially after going to the bathroom and before eating.

Read more: What is a virus? How do they spread? How do they make us sick?

What do I do if someone in my home is sick?
It may be wise to think about which room in your home could be used to care for a sick member of your family. If possible, the ideal room is one that that is separate from other parts of your home and has a separate bathroom.

Cleaning this room when someone is sick also requires some thought. Further advice on caring for someone with coronavirus at home is available from the Department of Health.The Conversation

Brett Mitchell, Professor of Nursing, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Were you aware of the differences between cleaning and disinfection? How safe is your house from coronavirus?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    The Thinker
    25th Mar 2020
    This could be a problem for people sharing a place but not for individuals living on their own.
    25th Mar 2020
    After using a dish cloth wash it in soapy water and then place in bowl of water and put it into a micro wave. Micro wave will kill germs and smells. The sun will kill certain germs so hang out wet cloths etc when the sun is shinning. Yes it is very important to dry completely as germs love warm moist items. From old school nurse.
    25th Mar 2020
    I dont know about germs liking warmth ...I think viruses like , and live longer in the cold . Thats why the common cold and the flu both increase in the Winter
    25th Mar 2020
    Guess in the colder weather the virus looks for a warmer and moist place which is your lungs. Your immune system weakens when you are cold. There are billion of viruses out there and guess each one is unique and chooses where it wants to live and what it wants to multiply on, that's why cleaning is so important. It's not that cold in Australia in the winter, I would say more humid.
    25th Mar 2020
    The thinker! You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work that out!
    25th Mar 2020
    Hi Hillbillypete
    Can you tell me your theory.
    Hence how can a hairdresser cut hair 1.5m
    From their client. Hairdressers must be immune to viruses?
    25th Mar 2020
    Jan what are you talking about? I was talking to (the thinker)
    25th Mar 2020
    Sorry having problems with my eyes after cataract removal
    26th Mar 2020
    Too much paranoia, my house is full of germs, my own!
    Chris B T
    26th Mar 2020
    These are all good points, unless you brought this virus into your dwelling or visitor waste of time and more important resources.
    Much more sensible is to avoid outside contact and clean hands before entering dwelling, not unlike taking your shoes of before entering dwelling.
    Funds are going to be tight so cleaning as usual and be aware when outside.
    26th Mar 2020
    Apparently, they've found that the virus survived at least 14 days in cabins on the Diamond Princess. It is quite stubborn. How to avoid it? Self-isolate, self isolate and (to repeat) self isolate. I sympathise with people who cannot self-isolate for whatever reason, but this seems the ONLY sure remedy.

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