The widespread concern over the COVID-19 pandemic is causing many of us to take a second look at our cleaning routines. Now, many of us are questioning the products we use and our cleaning methods, wondering if they are actually helping us to support and maintain our health.
At a time when our natural inclination is to constantly clean and disinfect, MADE SAFE is taking a deeper look at the sanitation frenzy and how we can best protect ourselves and our families.
Handwashing: Your First Line of Defense
When you consider the cleanliness of your home, Paul Pottinger, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle, reminds us that the number one thing that we should focus on cleaning in light of COVID-19 is our hands. Regular, proper handwashing with plain soap and water can be hugely influential in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Remember: you are one of the biggest parts of your home environment.
COVID-19 + Surfaces
When thinking about cleaning or disinfecting your home to protect you and your family, the first question that’s likely on your mind is: can I become infected with COVID-19 by touching a surface that an infected person has touched?
We wish we had a straightforward answer for you, but the jury (aka scientific research) is still out.
While it’s indeed true that viruses can be transferred to surfaces from an infected person, the science hasn’t yet determined if contaminated surfaces are a meaningful route of transmission of COVID-19. And according to the CDC, “… transmission of the novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented.”
But let’s be clear: that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it just means it hasn’t been documented and we need more research.
To Disinfect or Not to Disinfect?
So should we disinfect? And how often? How can we best reduce our risk of illness and what role might disinfecting play in this? We think the first step in answering these questions is to understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting:
Cleaning vs. Disinfecting
Though you may have never considered it, there is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Understanding their differences will help you determine whether cleaning and/or disinfecting is right for your family in the face of COVID-19.
As defined by the CDC:
- Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Essentially, cleaning helps to remove germs and disinfecting can give your germ removal efforts an extra boost.
Is Disinfecting Effective?
This question is one that researchers have been seeking to answer not just during COVID-19, but for years.
In their helpful resource on cleaning, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) reminds us that, at this point in time, there are no studies demonstrating that cleaning with disinfectants at home yields lower rates of illness within the household than cleaning with soap and water (during “normal” non-pandemic times).
In fact, as WVE reports, one study concluded that families cleaning with disinfectants and antibacterial products did not reduce the number of viral infections in the home when compared against families using products that did not include the disinfecting ingredients. Some of the most popular products for disinfecting (that are also often utilized for regular, daily cleaning too) contain toxic ingredients, some of which are antimicrobial ingredients. As we’ve covered in our past articles on hand hygiene and cleaning, the lack of evidence demonstrating the efficacy of these sorts of antibacterial products for daily household use is not the only reason we would recommend pausing before dousing your home in conventional cleaners 24/7.
While these products may prove invaluable when prudently used in the appropriate settings (such as hospitals, public places, or in the home during a time of illness), the excessive consumer use of antibacterial disinfectants, especially routine use during “normal times,” could be risky as it may encourage the emergence and proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
This being said, we know that the times feel anything but normal right now. It seems like if there were ever a circumstance in which to be using these ingredients in the home, it would certainly be right now! For this reason, we’ve compiled some information to help you navigate disinfecting and cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Choosing to Disinfect
Choosing a Disinfectant
Among the options available for disinfecting your home, some of the safer options include the following:
- Citric acid
- Hydrogen peroxide
- L-lactic acid
- Alcohol (ethanol & isopropanol)
You can also reference the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of products approved for use against COVID-19 if you are unable to find any of the safer options listed above. (Do note that the EPA’s list of approved products contain other active ingredients besides the disinfectants listed above.)
When to Disinfect
Disinfect surfaces in the following scenarios:
- When potentially contaminated products enter the household from the outside. Though there is some level of risk involved in getting groceries and accepting packages, it could actually be lower than we might expect.
- Any surfaces that are touched before washing hands upon return from being in public places.
- Surfaces touched by a (symptomatic) household member with a confirmed or suspected illness.
- High-risk surfaces such as doorknobs, remotes, etc.
Best Practices When Using Disinfectants
- Never use harsh cleaners without properly ventilating the room. Open doors, windows, or run appliance vents to ensure a proper level of airflow.
- Wear gloves. Wearing gloves when handling harsh cleaners can help protect your skin.
- Follow label instructions. Instructions help you to use the product as intended by the manufacturer. Improper use could potentially exacerbate some of the health concerns surrounding these products.
- Clean surfaces prior to disinfecting. Be sure to clean dirty surfaces with soap and water prior to disinfecting, as the presence of dirt can inhibit the effectiveness of the disinfectant.
- Clean surfaces with a nontoxic cleaner after using harsh cleaners. After disinfectants have had their time to work, wash them away with a nontoxic cleaner to reduce your exposure to residues.
- Disinfect properly based on your surface type. For step-by-step instructions of how to disinfect based on surface-type, visit the CDC’s instructional page for proper disinfectant use.
For additional guidance on best practices for disinfecting homes, check out the guide put together by the EPA and the CDC. Note that the CDC recommends disinfecting and cleaning.
Choosing to Clean
Choosing a Cleaner
Here are our top tips for choosing a safer cleaner:
- Look for the MADE SAFE® seal on cleaning products. MADE SAFE certification is the fastest way to know if a product is safer for you and your family.
- Choose products with all of the ingredients listed on the label. Avoid products with ambiguous terms on labels like “surfactants,” “enzymes” or “preservatives.
- Choose a multi-purpose cleaner. Cleaning companies have us convinced we need a different product for every surface, but usually a multi-purpose cleaner gets the job done.
- DIY your own cleaners. Check out our favorite resources at the end of this article.
When to Clean
- Clean surfaces prior to disinfecting. Use a nontoxic cleaner to wipe down dirty surfaces to increase the efficacy of disinfectants.
- Clean surfaces after using a harsh cleaner. Wipe away the residue from conventional cleaners or disinfectants with your favorite safer cleaner.
- For general cleanliness. Per the CDC, general cleaning helps to remove germs from surfaces. Additionally, because soap and water are effective in helping to fight COVID-19, cleaning with soap-based cleaners and water is one of many important tools in reducing the spread of Coronavirus.
Wipes vs. Paper Towels vs. Reusable Cloths
Choosing a cleaner or disinfectant isn’t just about your health – it’s about the planet’s too. Remember to keep in mind what you’re wiping away that cleaner with. Here are our top tips:
While they boast many conveniences, some wipes come with some serious concerns for your plumbing, the health of the planet, and human health too. If you choose to use wipes, be sure never to flush them down the toilet. Flushing wipes down the toilet can lead to costly toilet and sewer backups.
While they may seem like they’re made of natural materials, most wipes are made with or from plastic. Flushing can allow these plastics to break down into microplastics which become pervasive in our water supply, bringing lasting detrimental impacts to aquatic life and human life too.
Tossing wipes in the trash as opposed to the sewer can help alleviate some of the immediate impacts on our waterways, but even when banished to a landfill, the issue of biodegradability remains. Many wipes are made of or with plastic, which is not biodegradable, meaning it will be around for years to come. If you choose cleaning wipes, you can help curb this lasting impact by making sure to choose wipes that are made of 100% biodegradable materials like cotton.
If you are wanting to avoid the use of plastic cleaning wipes, but are not ready to switch to reusable cleaning cloths, paper towels can serve as another option. Look for better choices, such as products that are 100 percent biodegradable, responsibly sourced (a good indicator is FSC certification), made from natural fibers like bamboo or paper, and if the product is whitened, that this is accomplished without the use of chlorine bleach.
The fear of the COVID-19 virus lingering on surfaces and fabrics may make it easy to throw some of our previously held environmentally conscious habits, such as cleaning with reusable cloths, to the wind. It’s important to remember that soap and water are effective in fighting against COVID-19 and therefore, properly washed reusable cloths do not pose more of a threat of transmission of COVID-19 than do disposables. If you are looking to clean with reusable cloths, look for rags made of natural fibers such as cotton (even better if it’s organic), and try to avoid microfiber cloths as they are made from plastic and contribute to the above mentioned microplastics problem when washed.
Dangers of Conventional Cleaners and Disinfectants
To learn more about the harmful substances found in cleaning and disinfecting products, check out MADE SAFE’s product profiles and chemical profiles.
MADE SAFE Certified Household Cleaning Products
For your regular household cleaning needs, we have many MADE SAFE certified options to select from. See below for a list of all of our certified cleaning products. (Note that while many of these cleaners are soap-based, these products are not intended to disinfect.)
- Concentrate – A highly versatile concentrate that can be diluted and used for everything from your windows to your dishes, floors, bathrooms, and even your veggies.
- Bamboo Cleaning Wipes – Cleaning wipes that can be used for a variety of purposes. Great for on-the-go!
- Baby Safe Home Cleaning Concentrate – A versatile home cleaner that’s tough on messes, yet gentle on humans.
- All-Purpose Home Cleaner – A one stop-solution for counters and sinks to tubs and toilets.
- Gentle Home Cleaning Scrub – When you need to add a little boost to your cleaning regimen, this scrub works great on tubs, tiles, stovetops and more.
- Oxygen Brightener – A natural bleach alternative for whitening laundry or home cleaning tasks that could use some oomph.
DIY Cleaning Product Recipes
To make your own cleaners, check out some of our favorite resources:
Bonus: If making your own cleaning products, minimize your plastic consumption by looking for glass bottles/containers! Or re-use empty bottles you already have on hand.
Using Essential Oils in DIY Cleaners
A few great essential oils to get started with for cleaning are lemon, tea tree, and lavender.*
MADE SAFE® Certified Essential Oils for DIY:
*Remember to avoid any essential oils you are sensitive or allergic to. Always dilute essential oils properly.
Helpful Cleaning & Disinfecting Resources
- Women’s Voices for the Earth: Safer Disinfecting at home in the times of Coronavirus
- Women’s Voices for the Earth: The Problem with Quats
- MADE SAFE: Hazard List
- MADE SAFE: Toxic Chemicals in Cleaning Products
- MADE SAFE: What’s Inside Wipes
- Beyond Pesticides: Disinfectants & Sanitizers
- CDC: Cleaning and Disinfection for Households
- The New York Times: Why Soap Works