Woman carrying bucket with cleaning supplies

To protect against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), it is important to clean surfaces and wash our hands frequently.

However, there is a difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing. Just ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These three words are not necessarily interchangeable, especially during a pandemic:

Cleaning entails using soap and water to remove — but maybe not kill — germs and dirt.

Disinfecting involves using chemicals to kill the germs you are trying to avoid.

Sanitizing is the act of cleaning and/or disinfecting to cut the number of germs on a surface or object.

Understanding how coronavirus spreads is an important part of protecting yourself. Transmission can happen in a variety of ways.

Learn more about how COVID spreads and what you can do to protect yourself and others.

How Long Does the Coronavirus Last on Surfaces?

The CDC provides detailed information on how long the virus that causes COVID-19 lasts on different surfaces.

How to Disinfect For COVID

Learn what kinds of cleaning methods you can use right now to help you and your family stay well. There are disinfectant products (EPA List N) that effectively kill all strains and variants of COVID-19. You should use these products according to their label directions. If EPA List N products are not available, bleach solutions can also be used. Learn more about List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus.

Cleaning Surfaces in Your Home

If there is someone in your home who has COVID-19, you want to go beyond a light cleaning. You should regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home, including:

  • Countertops
  • Rails
  • Tables
  • Backs of chairs
  • Light switches
  • Faucets
  • Toilets
  • Refrigerator doors
  • Doorknobs
  • Remote controls

You should sanitize these areas several times each day.

Cleaning Your Electronic Devices

Germs through which COVID-19 can be spread can live on our phones, tablets, computers and televisions, so it is good to clean these kinds of devices regularly.

You can find cleaning recommendations on the official websites of electronic device manufacturers. For example, Samsung list steps on how to clean certain areas of phones, tablets and smart watches. Apple also provides specific ways to keep all Apple products clean. 

Sanitizing Laundry

If you are caring for someone with coronavirus, take extra care precautions when handling laundry.

  • Immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding that have blood, stool or body fluids on them.
  • Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items and keep the items away from your body.
  • Clean your hands (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) immediately after removing your gloves.
  • Read and follow directions on labels of washable items and detergent products. In general, use a normal laundry detergent according to washing machine instructions and dry thoroughly using the warmest temperatures recommended on the labels of clothing and linens.