There’s something deeply unsettling about stepping out of the home-from-work boredom of self-isolation into the tense, ambient panic of grocery shopping during a pandemic. Normal is a double-sided coin now. At home things feel hyperreal, and outside they feel entirely surreal—two steps removed from the flashback scenes in a postapocalyptic movie. You may feel a tension between helping yourself and helping your community. Daily life during the novel coronavirus pandemic is all about disorienting contrasts like these.
It might seem more productive to read our Coronavirus Gear and Supplies Guide and start filling your pantry with canned goods and essentials, but cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in your home can help lower the chances you or a loved one will contract Covid-19 and lower the chances you might spread it to someone else. Keeping your home (and self) sanitized helps everyone.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends we all take steps to clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces in our homes. Below, we get into the weeds of how long the virus might last on surfaces, which disinfectants may kill it, and the steps you should take to keep clean.
Wash Your Hands
You’ve heard it a million times by now, and you’ll hear it a million more, but the best way to lower your risk of contracting Covid-19 (or pass it on to someone else) is to wash your hands after you cough, sneeze, touch your face, use the restroom, or are about to leave one place for another. You should wash your hands when you leave and return from the grocery store, for instance.
If you can find any, hand sanitizer also works wonders. (Here's how to make your own.) It's no substitute for washing your hands, though. When you're able, home soap and water can be a little easier on your hands. It won’t necessarily kill all pathogens, but it’ll wash them away. The World Health Organization has detailed instructions (which we've all seen in meme form) on how to properly perform the 20-second hand wash.
It’s also important to liberally moisturize your hands. Dry, cracked skin is at greater risk for all kinds of infections, so after you wash, apply a little moisturizer. It's nice! Most moisturizing lotions have similar ingredients, starting with water and glycerin, so the brand doesn't really matter.(Here are some hand lotions on Amazon.) If your hands are extra dry, look for something dermatologist recommended with an "intensive" label, like Eucerin Advanced Repair or Neutrogena Hydro Boost.
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Even if you're not sick, just stay home if you can. Being in large crowds or going out to restaurants pose unnecessary risks not just to yourself but to the people around you. The more you're in public, the more chances the novel coronavirus has to hitch a ride on your hands, clothes, or person. Millions of people are very vulnerable to this virus. Putting yourself at risk also puts them at risk.
"There will be a sizable portion of people who are older, or who have other health conditions, and if they get sick all at once, they're going to overwhelm the health care system. So we're trying to decrease the number of transmissions," Dr. John Townes, head of infection prevention and control at the Oregon Health & Science University, told WIRED.
Important Rules to Stay Safe:
Why You Should Avoid Face Masks (for Now)
They serve an important purpose for people who are sick or are caring for an ill person, but face masks are in short supply and needed by health care workers and those who are sick with the virus. Wearing a mask may also give you a false sense of security, causing you to put yourself at greater risk.
"You may in fact be touching your face more often because you're adjusting your mask. Or you may be trying to keep your eyeglasses from fogging up, then the portal of entry might be your eye," Townes said. "I think we need to deemphasize wearing masks in public as a strategy."
As far as we know, the novel coronavirus is transmitted through person-to-person contact, or respiratory droplets. Those droplets don't stay suspended in the air, they fall to the ground within about six feet of the infected person.
Clean and Disinfect
The first thing you'll want to know is that cleaning and disinfecting are two very different things. The CDC recommends we all do a bit of both, even if nobody in your home is sick.
Cleaning is about removing contaminants from a surface.
Disinfecting is about killing pathogens.
Do both daily if anything or anyone has entered or exited your home.
Transmission from person-to-person is a much greater risk than transmission via surfaces, but the CDC recommends we clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in our homes at least once daily just to be safe, assuming we have had contact with the outside world in some way, either a person leaving and returning or goods coming in.
Target Your Home's High-Touch Surfaces
Researchers have found that the novel coronavirus is capable of living on surfaces such as cardboard for 24 hours, but up to two or three days on plastic and stainless steel. So cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces is a step we should all take.
High-Touch Surfaces to Clean and Disinfect Daily:
Everyone’s home is a little different, so just think about the surfaces you interact with most. For me, that includes the above, plus desk surfaces and mousepads (we'll get to gadgets in a bit). Now that you know what you're cleaning, here's how you should do it.
First Clean, Then Disinfect:
That’s it. Just adding these to your daily routine can help lower the risk of infection for you and anyone else in your household. If you aren't able to obtain disinfectants at this time, just do a thorough job with the soap or cleaning agents you do have.
The EPA has a full list of disinfectants that will kill the novel coronavirus, but here are a few essentials to keep an eye out for. You can find most of these disinfectants online at Amazon or Walmart if your local grocery store is out of stock. Most disinfectants should have a label that lists the viruses they're effective against, and that's what you'll want to look out for more than any particular active ingredient.
"If [a disinfectant product] has an indication for killing influenza, RSB, SARS virus, or other coronaviruses, then it should work against this one also," Townes said.
If You Cannot Find Store-Bought Disinfectants
Store shelves are bare in a lot of places, especially in the cleaning section, but you still have plenty of options. First off, please do use more soap, water, and scrubbing. That can make a huge difference.
The CDC also has a recommended recipe for a homemade cleaning solution using household bleach.
How to Make Homemade Bleach Disinfectant Spray:
Bleach is excessive in most cases. You should never ever mix bleach solution with any other cleaning chemical, and it's likely to damage or discolor sensitive surfaces. Use it as a last resort if you can't source or acquire any other kind of disinfectant. With bleach, remember to wear gloves, open your windows (ventilation is your friend), and be careful.
Alternatively you can make your own bleach-free sanitizer spray with a few ingredients you can order online.
Does the Laundry Machine Work on Clothes?
Yes, mostly. Just washing your clothing with regular laundry soap and drying it at a slightly higher temperature than you might have otherwise is all you have to do to disinfect your clothes.
Be sure to disinfect surfaces the dirty laundry comes in contact with, including the hamper and your hands—especially if you have a sick person in the house.
Clean and disinfect the hamper like you would any other surface, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling dirty laundry from someone who is ill. The CDC recommends using a liner in your hamper.
Don't forget to clean your coat and backpack. Wiping the inside off with a disinfectant wipe should do the trick unless your jacket is machine washable.
Should You Disinfect Food and Snacks?
No, not without reason. According to the FDA, there is no evidence to suggest that food or food packaging can transmit the novel coronavirus, so there is currently no need to disinfect food or food packaging any more than you usually would. Just observe standard food safety.
Should You Disinfect Packages and Mail?
Yes, lightly. According to the USPS, mail and packages are relatively low-risk for transmitting the novel coronavirus, and packages from China pose no special risk compared to packages from anywhere else. That said, researchers have found that it can live on cardboard for around 24 hours, so giving packages a once over with a disinfecting wipe isn't a bad idea.
Here’s where cleaning and disinfecting can get tricky. Your devices might be all that’s keeping you sane during your self-isolation but, as we all know, they’re magnets for germs. They’re high-touch surfaces you carry with you everywhere, so you need to clean and disinfect them, too. To avoid repeating myself, let’s just say it here: Disinfecting wipes are the best way to clean your devices, hands down. But some devices have special considerations.
How to Disinfect Your Phone or Tablet
If you have them, disinfect an iPhone or Android phone with a disinfecting wipe or alcohol solution (at least 70 percent). Make sure you pay special attention to the screen, the buttons, and anywhere dust and pocket lint tend to get trapped. Also make sure you remove any case that’s on your phone or tablet, clean underneath, put it back on, and clean the outside. Following the CDC recommendations for other high-touch surfaces in the home, a once-daily disinfecting isn’t going to hurt your devices.
How to Disinfect Your Computer
Laptop displays aren’t always made of glass (matte displays are plastic) so avoid using a disinfecting wipe on the screen, just in case. The display should be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol (70 percent) solution and a soft towel. Make sure you wipe down the keyboard, the trackpad, the exterior, and where your wrists rest on the laptop.
Most desktop computers are already in sore need for a cleaning. The best way to do that is with a disinfecting wipe or isopropyl alcohol solution and a soft towel. Again, avoid disinfecting wipes on the monitor, just in case—stick to isopropyl alcohol there. But otherwise, just make sure you wipe down the mouse (top, sides, and bottom), the keys on your keyboard, the exterior of the keyboard, and any mousepad you might have.
Don't Forget Accessories
For any other electronic device, if the exterior is largely plastic (gaming mice, gamepads, TV remotes) it’s safe to give them a once-over with a disinfecting wipe or isopropyl alcohol solution.
There's a lot going on right now. It's stressful. It's scary. It can be hard to know what you should do or what's going on. If you have more questions, and who doesn't right now, we have a lot of thoughtful, thoroughly researched news and articles about the novel coronavirus. You can read more here. Stay safe out there, and please, if you can, stay home.
Updated March 21: We clarified that if you're unable to obtain disinfectants, using soap and water on surfaces is still important and can be effective.
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