Cleaning vs. Disinfecting – Know the Difference

For decades now, people conscious of protecting the environment and their own households from chemical irritants have opted for more “green” cleaners that are believed to be safer for children, pets, and people with sensitivities to harsh products.  But now, with the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, there is some confusion about cleaning versus disinfecting. 

According to a recent Washington Post report, while routine cleaning removes dirt, grime, and germs from surfaces, only disinfecting will kill pathogens.  Because the coronavirus can live on door handles, countertops, and bathroom fixtures, it’s important to use a disinfectant daily on high touch surfaces, especially if someone in your household may have been exposed to coronavirus. It’s also a good practice during the regular flu season.

The Environmental Protection Agency lists bleach, isopropyl alcohol, and quaternary ammonium(quats) among the disinfectants that are effective at killing the novel coronavirus.  If you are concerned about sensitivities, 70 percent alcohol-based disinfectants may be a safer choice for people with conditions like asthma that are irritated by more harsh chemicals.  Diluted bleach is effective but it breaks down in water quickly and is only strong enough to be effective for about 24 hours.  

Disinfecting wipes that use quats can be less irritating to skin, eyes, and lungs and a good choice for households with young children.  Although natural and plant-based products are touted as being a safer choice, they are not governmentally regulated, and some can be corrosive or toxic if misused.  Be certain to read the instructions when using a disinfectant. Some work within 30 seconds while others must sit on surfaces for several minutes to be effective. 

Although some essential oils such as limonene, lavender, and citrus have been found to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, research has yet to prove that they are effective at killing the coronavirus.  In addition to wiping down high-touch surfaces with a disinfectant regularly, opening the windows to allow the air to circulate can help improve ventilation and dilute any virus particles indoors.  

Learn more about cleaning and disinfecting your household by following this link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As always, wash your hands frequently, wear a face mask in public spaces, and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.