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House cleaning: How to disinfect the entire home to protect you from COVID-19

Which areas and objects should you focus on? How many disinfecting wipes should you use? Here’s a handy guide for the weekend.

To ensure that your home isn’t inadvertently rolling out the welcome mat for COVID-19, you can't just simply clean. You'll have to disinfect.

That's because wiping the shelves and the TV console with a cloth dampened with just water isn't enough to kill the coronavirus. 

In fact, it can survive “on average about three days in our local climate” on glass, metal and ceramic surfaces, said Dr Jyoti Somani, a senior consultant with the Division of Infectious Diseases at National University Hospital. 

Need another reason to pick up a cleaning cloth? A dusty window wouldn't hurt you but a dirty door knob could make you very sick. If you're ready to wage chemical warfare on germs, here’s how to do it right.

READ THE LABEL ON THE DISINFECTANT

Not all cleaning agents effectively kill bacteria, viruses and fungi – but you want that tri-fold action. For that reason, it is important to read the label, advised Dr Joseph Horvath, an associate professor of medicine at the University of South Carolina Medical School’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

READ: Machine-wash or hand-wash? Cleaning reusable cloth masks the right way

“Products labelled as disinfectants will adequately kill viruses and bacteria if used correctly,” he told Business Insider. But if it says “sanitise”, don’t assume the product will take out the microbial trifecta of bacteria, viruses and fungi, said Dr Horvath. It may only target 99.9 per cent of the bacteria, but not viruses and fungi if those are not mentioned.

(Photo: Unsplash/Crystal de Passille-Chabo)

LET THE DISINFECTING LIQUID DRY OFF ON ITS OWN

Yes, save yourself the trouble of drying off your freshly mopped floor, just-cleaned toilet bowl or wiped kitchen counter. In fact, for the disinfectant to work, the surface that it is applied to needs to be visibly wet for a specific period of time – otherwise known as the contact time.

The contact time can range from 15 seconds to even 10 minutes, depending on the manufacturers’ instructions. For quick reference, see the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) list below for the contact times of active ingredients used in common disinfectants.

(Source: National Environment Agency)

But what if the evaporation rate in your flat is high and your floor doesn’t stay wet for the duration indicated in the manufacturer’s instructions? You may have to go more heavy-handed in your initial application or reapply, according to Becker’s Healthcare, a US website for the healthcare industry.

READ: COVID-19 news making you anxious? Heed these expert tips on how to stay calm

As for homes with kids, older folks or pets that aren’t conducive to having a wet floor for 10 minutes, it may be a good idea to switch to a floor disinfectant that doesn’t require a long contact time. 

If there isn’t one, mop the floor part by part, especially for bigger areas such as the living room and kitchen. For the bedrooms, close the door after mopping to prevent family members from going in and ensuring that the floor stays wet for the prescribed period.

DON’T USE ONE WIPE TO COVER THE WHOLE KITCHEN OR ROOM

When it comes to using wipes, the rule of thumb is: They are only effective if you can still wet the surface you’re wiping. The rationale is the same as using disinfecting floor detergent – you must leave enough of the liquid on the surface for it to work, according to Business Insider. So don’t be cheap and cover the entire kitchen with just one wipe.

The reason manufacturers don’t prescribe a specific area for each wipe to cover is, the wipe’s size and amount of disinfectant on each wipe varies from brand to brand. “For these reasons, requiring the disinfectant to remain visibly wet on the surface is a useful and relatively simple practice to follow to ensure compliance and proper disinfection,” wrote Becker’s Healthcare.

READ: 6 powerful foods that can help you eat your way to a stronger immune system

TARGET HIGH-TOUCH AREAS

The NEA has a list of guidelines on how homes that may be exposed to COVID-19 should be cleaned. But what about homes that aren’t? 

Focus on the high-touch surfaces. These refer to areas at home that are commonly touch by you and your family, mainly the following, as highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US:

  • Doorknobs
  • Table surfaces
  • Hard dining chairs (seat, back, and arms)
  • Kitchen counters
  • Bathroom counters
  • Taps
  • Toilets (seats and flush handles)
  • Light switches
  • TV remote controls
  • Game controllers

Wipe, mop or spray with household disinfectants (see NEA's list of disinfectants that are effective against coronavirus).

Alternatively, make your own bleach solution. To do this, mix five tablespoons (or one third cup) of bleach per gallon (3.8 litres) of water. Or, mix four teaspoons of bleach per quart (about 1 litre) of water, suggested the CDC.

However, check that the bleach you use has not expired and is meant for disinfecting; for instance, bleaches for whitening or are colour-safe for clothes are not. And never mix bleach with ammonia or any household cleaning agent.

Source: CNA/bk

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