Cleaning with regular soap and water is often good enough to fight covid-19

By Lindsey Bever and — Julia in Virginia,

“With increasing prevalence of variants, what is the latest advice on day-to-day practices like incoming mail and cleaning our homes? I feel we are back to revisiting former practices in the wake of potential variant-induced resurge. Argh!”


— Julia in Virginia

We’ve had an increase in cleaning questions, particularly after the rise of variants and the promise of more travel. What can we do to reduce the risk of variant spread? How do I disinfect a hotel room?

It seemed like a good moment to share new (money-saving) guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on cleaning: You can stop fighting over the last container of bleach wipes at the store, and you don’t have to budget for that fancy UV-light cleanser. Cleaning with regular soap and water is good enough.

Washing surfaces with soap and water will remove most virus particles, according to the CDC. Disinfecting sprays and wipes (Clorox, Lysol, etc.) are needed only when someone who has covid-19 has recently been in the home.

Health experts have been saying for some time that the chances are low that you’d catch the virus by touching a surface.

Nevertheless, the cleaning industry has exploded over the course of the pandemic — people have been stocking up on wipes, household bleach and other chemicals approved to kill the disease. Some have even resorted to making their own.

“Unfortunately, there has been a plethora of products that have been coming out to ‘clean and disinfect surfaces,’ ” said Aditya Shah, a consultant in infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic. But Shah said chemicals or expensive products that use UV rays to kill germs are not necessarily needed to get the job done. The purpose of the new CDC guidance, he said, “is to reassure people that simple agents like soap and water are usually sufficient.”

Shah said although products containing hydrogen peroxide, ammonia or alcohol are more sophisticated, soap and water — along with some “vigorous friction” — can remove the virus.

All of that said, the CDC advises that when someone in the home tests positive for the coronavirus, surfaces such as light switches and doorknobs should be disinfected with the appropriate products. The guidance includes step-by-step instructions on how to disinfect different surfaces, do laundry, handle trash and, of course, protect yourself from infection.

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