COVID-19: Safely Clean & Disinfect for Households
With decades of experience testing the performance of safer cleaning chemicals, TURI offers guidance on how to reduce your risk to the coronavirus while also avoiding unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Hard Surfaces
To help prevent the spread of COVID-9, it is important to clean and disinfect hard surfaces that are frequently touched. Hard surfaces include household areas such as countertops, faucet handles, and doorknobs. TURI recommends the following safety guidelines:
- Clean before you disinfect. If there is dirt on a surface, clean it off with soap and water before you apply any disinfectant. Removing dirt makes the disinfection more effective.
- NEVER mix cleaning/disinfecting chemicals together. Mixing chemicals together can cause very dangerous reactions. For example, if bleach and ammonia are mixed together, they produce toxic gases that can be lethal. Combining bleach with other chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide or vinegar, is also dangerous. For more information, see TURI’s webpage on the dangers of mixing cleaning chemicals.
- Wear rubber gloves and eye protection when using toxic disinfectants. Open windows and turn on exhaust fans to dissipate the toxic fumes. CDC’s guidance refers readers to the list of EPA-registered disinfectants that are effective on COVID-19. Many of these products contain toxic chemicals such as quaternary ammonium compounds, which can cause contact dermatitis, asthma and other health impacts. Precautions must be followed to minimize exposure to these harmful chemicals. Keep these products away from children, and open windows or turn on exhaust fans when using.
- Dilute bleach with water before using. Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is an effective disinfectant, but it must be diluted before using. Bleach is highly toxic. It can cause respiratory, skin and eye irritation, and can cause or exacerbate asthma.
- Don't over use disinfectants. Although we are in a crisis situation with COVID-19, remember that disinfecting kills all microorganisms, good and bad. Overuse can contribute to unintended consequences, such as promoting the growth of antibiotic resistance organisms.
Public health authorities, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Boston Public Health Commission, have issued guidance for households on cleaning and disinfection to protect against COVID-19.
TURI has also selected a number of recently created resources to support the use of safer cleaning and disinfecting materials. With new resources becoming available each day, we will continue to update this guide as appropriate.
Safer Disinfectant Products for Hard Surfaces are Available
The EPA’s Design for Environment Program (now the Safer Choice Program) identified a number of disinfecting chemicals that are safer, including hydrogen peroxide, alcohol (isopropyl alcohol or ethanol), citric acid, and lactic acid, among others. The Environmental Working Group issued a list of household cleaning/disinfecting products that contain safer active ingredients. Several products that carry the Design for the Environment (DfE) logo are on EPA’s list of registered disinfectants effective on COVID-19. See list of products in both groups.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Soft (porous) surfaces:
Soft (porous) materials include sheets, towels, pillow covers and other household items. Based on CDC’s Cleaning and Disinfection for Households guidance, soap and warm water are effective. Clean these materials normally in a washing machine.
For additional information about safer cleaning and disinfectant products for COVID-19, please see these useful resources:
- Women’s Voices for the Earth’s webinar (March 2020): “COVID-19, Cleaning Products & Your Health”
- University of Washington’s Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Science’s fact sheet (April 2020): “Safer Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting Strategies to Reduce and Prevent COVID-19 Transmission"
- Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit’s fact sheet (April 2020) and infographic on Disinfectant Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic.