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.

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 uses 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. Coronavirus transmission can happen in a variety of ways.

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

How Long Does the Coronavirus Last on Surfaces?

A March 2020 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that novel coronavirus can live on surfaces for anywhere from hours to days. For instance, it can last up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to a few days on plastics and stainless steel.

How to Disinfect For Coronavirus

Learn what kinds of cleaning you need to do right now to help you and your family stay well.

Cleaning Surfaces in Your Home

You want to go beyond a light cleaning. You should use household cleaning products to disinfect high-touch areas in your home, like:

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

If it is touched throughout the day, clean it! Once a day may not be enough because no one is sure yet how long these germs can live on specific surfaces. You should sanitize these areas several times each day.

Also, a quick swipe of a damp paper towel is not enough to kill the germs. Tables and countertops, for example, need to be visibly wet for several minutes. Check the side of the cleaner as it usually states a suggested time that the surface needs to be wet to make the maximum impact.

Cleaning Your Phone

Coronavirus germs can live on our phones, which is why we need to be cleaning them now more than ever.

For anyone with an iPhone, Apple recommends using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes to gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your iPhone. Do not use bleach. Samsung has not commented on whether wipes are a good way to clean your phone.

And don't forget the phone case. This can also be cleaned with a disinfecting wipe.

Cleaning Computers

Computers and other electronic devices are a high-touch surfaces. They should be cleaned often, particularly if multiple people use the same one.

Use a solution of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and 30 water, as recommended by the CDC. Many household cleaners and disinfectants have bleach, peroxides, acetone or ammonia, which may cause permanent damage to the product.

Turn off the device before cleaning and clean all surfaces that hands may touch.

Sanitizing Laundry

If you are caring for someone with coronavirus or you are going out the grocery store or other public places, you may need to take extra care with your 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 soiled 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 laundry or clothing items and detergent. In general, using a normal laundry detergent according to washing machine instructions and dry thoroughly using the warmest temperatures recommended on the clothing label.

Approved Cleaning Products for Coronavirus

Bleach, ammonia and hydrogen peroxide are all good examples of products that can disinfect.

Approved disinfectants against coronavirus include:

  • Clorox Multi Surface Cleaner + Bleach
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
  • Clorox Commercial Solutions
  • Clorox Disinfecting Spray
  • Lysol Heavy-Duty Cleaner Disinfectant Concentrate
  • Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist
  • Lysol Clean & Fresh Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Wipes
  • Sani-Prime Germicidal Spray

Other Cleaning Products

Vinegar and vodka probably won't do the necessary job, though there has been recent discussion about these two products for cleaning.

When it comes down to it, use a household cleaner liberally and often in your home to help disinfect and sanitize your home, ridding it of germs.

Safety Note: Mixing cleaning products can be very toxic. Do NOT mix bleach with vinegar, ammonia or rubbing alcohol. All of these combinations can be harmful to your health. Also, do NOT mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar.