How to Actually Clean and Disinfect Your Home Right Now


A home cleaning scientist answers our pressing questions

Right now, many of us are taking additional measures to clean and disinfect our homes and commonly-used products (we’re looking at our cell phones right now) — to help keep ourselves, our family, and others safe from harmful germs. But what’s the difference between how we cleaned before versus the steps we should be taking now to disinfect? And what products are actually useful to eliminate bacteria, dirt and potentially germs?

To find out, Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter turned to Morgan Brashear, a home care senior scientist at P&G. Here, the cleaning expert answers all of our cleaning and disinfecting questions.

Wake-Up Call: What are some really useful cleaning and disinfecting products that we should all have in our homes right now?

Morgan Brashear: The CDC has really been stressing the importance of hand-washing. So along with the guidance to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, the same kind of guidance is put in place for your high-touch items throughout your home.

You want to make sure to have an effective surface cleaner, especially one that can do multiple things. We think of things like Dawn as a powerful grease cleaners for dishes — but Dawn actually has a lot of alternative uses. For instance, you can use it as a laundry pre-treater. You can also use it in soapy water applications to clean your countertops, and really to rid any of those surfaces throughout your home of the everyday dirt, grease and grime that accumulate.

Then we really want to make sure to have a powerful disinfectant. The EPA has lists of the registered disinfectants, as well as the ones that have shown effectiveness on viruses similar to Covid-19. The disinfecting process is going to be really important, especially on those high-touch items — the things that the majority of people in a home or an apartment are touching on a regular basis. That’s the door knobs, light switches, countertops, tabletops, remote controls, and any of the bathroom fixtures, including the toilet flush or faucet. It’s important to disinfect those, and to look at the label on the disinfectant to make sure you’re using it properly.

A big thing that we’re seeing is a push for people to actually also clean off their cell phones. How should they do that?

Cell phones are probably one of the single things that people touch more than anything else throughout their lives. But you want to be careful with anything electronic and make sure you’re not soaking it with too much moisture. But things like disinfectant wipes are really good for that. The important thing to note with disinfecting — whether it is a cell phone or a surface — is a lot of times, people don’t realize that there’s a difference between cleaning it versus sanitizing and versus disinfecting.

Can you break down the difference for us?

Cleaning is ridding the item or surface of grime, soils and some germs. A lot of the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting has to do with the amount of time that the surface remains wet with the product. Obviously, the longer time it has to interact with the product itself (and the bacteria and the viruses that are on it), the higher the potential to kill all of the germs.

So a big problem that we’re seeing is that cleaning supplies are flying off the shelves in our stores. What can we do to improvise at home with some staples we may already have, if our desired cleaning products aren’t available?

If you can’t find your go-to product, if it is a surface cleaner, you look for alternative products you might already have in your home. For instance, Dawn can be used to create a soap and water solution in order to clean down some of those surfaces.

In terms of disinfectants, your household bleach is a good one — you can make a bleach solution by diluting it with water. There are lots of recipes online of how to do it. But typically about five tablespoons of bleach for a gallon of water is a good rule of thumb. (If you’re going to use bleach, you’ll want to check on an area that’s not very visible to make sure you’re not going to do any damage to that item or surface.) Or you can look for alcohol solutions of at least 70%. So if you have isopropyl alcohol at home in your first aid kit, as long as it’s over 70%, that can be used to sanitize surfaces as well.

Another thing: Many of us are eating at home more than ever before. What tips do you have for ensuring that our dishes are as clean as possible?

Before the current situation, you might’ve been able to let your dishes sit until the end of the day, because there weren’t really that many. But best practices now would be to try to clean your dishes or get them loaded into the dishwasher immediately after use, just so you’re not having dirty dishes sit around. Another thing would be to make sure you’re not sharing cups or utensils with anyone else in your household. Washing with Dawn or your other effective dishwashing solution, in the warmest water you can get, is still quite effective on dishes, as well as putting it through your dishwasher — and if your dishwasher has a sanitation cycle, even better.

In terms of the rest of our home, what specific rooms should we be prioritizing and cleaning as much as possible?

I would say wherever the most time is spent or the most people congregate, because that’s where the items are going to be touched the most and encounter the most bacteria. A lot of times it’s the entryway, where people are coming in and out. That’s maybe not happening as frequently now with stay at home policies. Kitchens and bathrooms are high traffic areas as well. And if, for instance, people are using a kitchen table now as a makeshift desk — that’s a good one to make sure you’re cleaning and sanitizing on a regular basis.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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