There’s more to disinfecting than doing a drive-by wiping. 

By Jessica Migala
March 18, 2020
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If there’s any good news about the new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, it’s this: It can be readily killed with disinfectants. But it’s not as simple as wiping something down and going on your way—you’ve got to use the right cleaners correctly.

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First, let’s back up to why you—and everyone else—is suddenly getting wipe-happy. The new coronavirus is often spread person-to-person when someone who is sick coughs or sneezes in your area; however, the virus can also remain alive “for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In effect, that means you could contract the disease by touching a surface with the pathogen and introducing it into your body by putting your hand up to your nose, eyes, or mouth. (The CDC says that this is a less frequent mode of transmission, but they’re constantly learning more about the new coronavirus because it’s, well, new.)

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Therefore, you have to first clean dirty surfaces and then disinfect to adequately annihilate pathogens. That means a casual wipe up is not going to cut it. Here’s what you need to do.

Step 1: Clean as normal

Cleaning means physically removing dirt and other gunk from the surface using soap and water. This, says the CDC, will remove some germs so that there are fewer to potentially make you sick. If you skip this step and go right to wiping, you’ll just spread things around your kitchen. If a member of your household has COVID-19, wear disposable gloves when cleaning and throw them away.

Step 2: Make sure you have the right kind of wipes

Not every wipe that comes in a cylinder is going to work. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has pre-approved various disinfectants for specifically fighting the novel coronavirus—you can find a list here. Clorox, Lysol, and Fabuloso Disinfecting Wipes appear on this list and are the most well-known (many of the others are commercially available or used in food service). Note, though, that wipes you may have picked up under a local supermarket brand may NOT be on this list.

Feeling frustrated that the wipes aisle is empty? Disinfectant wipes can be hard to come by these days, as more people are buying them all at once and/or hoarding them. They’re sold out online, so your best bet is to visit a few stores in your area. (If your community has a message board or private Facebook group, you can look there for updates on which stores are stocking these popular items.) If you are able to find wipes in your area, buy only what you need and, in the consideration for others who may need to care for and clean up after someone with COVID-19, leave some for your fellow community members.

And remember, if you can’t find wipes but can get spray on the EPA's list, like Lysol Disinfectant Spray or Clorox 4 in One Disinfecting Spray, go for it—you can use that along with a paper towel. 

Step 3: Now it’s time to disinfect… but take your time!

When it comes to disinfecting, the CDC recommends using disinfectants on common touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, handles, and tables.

Remember to clean first, and then wipe. But don’t succumb to a drive-by swiping. Before going with a wipe-down routine, read the label carefully to find out what you really need to do. For instance, the instructions on Clorox Disinfectant Wipes tells you to wipe a hard, nonporous surface and use enough so that it is “visibly wet” for four minutes. Yes, that’s four minutes. Let air dry. Don’t wipe it dry and don’t use while still wet—allowing it to dry out is important in killing germs. Patience here is truly a virtue. 

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