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Coronavirus Cleaning From A to Z: What You Need to Disinfect

Expert tips on coronavirus cleaning, including what common household items you should clean and disinfect—and how often.

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Coronavirus cleaning from A to Z

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, you may be in a constant state of cleaning and disinfecting your home. Of course, the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 is by washing your hands and practising physical (social) distancing. But, if you are an essential worker or don’t have an endless stockpile of supplies, you may need to interact with another person (and their potential germs) whether at work, the grocery store, pharmacy, doctor’s office, or through food pickup/delivery. (Or you may have someone in your home who has been exposed to the virus, too.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the Covid-19 virus survives for hours on surfaces. But, the virus can survive on different surfaces for varying amounts of time. This means some items require more cleaning and disinfecting than others. It’s important to remember that respiratory droplets—the particles released in a cough or sneeze that can carry the virus—are likely the primary mode of transmission, not the surfaces themselves, according to the CDC. The federal agency stresses that the transmission of the virus from contaminated surfaces to humans has not been documented, although touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face is thought to spread the virus.

The desire to clean and disinfect to prevent and protect everyone from Covid-19 is normal. However, how much is too much? Or, are there areas in your home you’re neglecting over others?

Still, with so much unknown about the virus, taking the proper precautions when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting is crucial. To strike the right balance with cleaning and disinfecting, here’s a handy list of common household items you should clean (and why), from A to Z.

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Apple

It’s normal to be worried about eating fresh produce. But, don’t let the virus stop you from getting your daily dose of fruits and vegetables if you’ve managed to stock up. Health Canada recommends to rinse fruits and vegetables under running water and proceed to dry accordingly with either a paper towel or clean cloth. For firmer produce, like melons, avocado, and potatoes, simply scrub with a clean produce brush, says Maya Feller, RD, of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition, who also recommends that you disinfect counter surfaces beforehand. By contrast, there’s no need to wash poultry, meat, or eggs: Cooking food to the Food and Drug Administration-recommended temperatures kills the virus, according to Cornell University’s Institute for Food Safety.

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Boxes

According to a March 2020 letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, coronavirus is only viable on cardboard for up to 24 hours. You could disinfect your boxes with wipes or spray immediately after receiving—outside, for an abundance of caution—or you could simply “quarantine” your boxes for 24 hours in a remote spot before opening. Either way, make sure you wear gloves (recommended by the CDC “for all tasks in the cleaning process“) and always wash your hands when done.

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Clothing

Wondering if washing your clothes can protect against coronavirus? In short: Yes. According to Georgine Nanos, MD, MPH, a board-certified family physician specializing in epidemiology and chief executive officer of Kind Health Group in Encinitas, California, coronavirus isn’t heat-resistant, dies at 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and seems to survive on fabric between six and twelve hours. Wash in the hottest water possible, and dry on high heat. (Here’s everything else you need to know about how to protect your clothes from coronavirus.)

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Doorknobs

Every time you—or the people you live with—open a door, you’re potentially contaminating it. Not surprisingly, the CDC name-checks doorknobs as among “high-touch surfaces” that should be disinfected every day. Opt to use one of these household products that kill coronavirus to wipe or spray down knobs, and then let dry.

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Electronics

Whether it’s your iPad, computer mouse, or cell phone dock, it’s a good idea to disinfect home electronics. The CDC recommends putting a wipeable cover on electronics such as keyboards, remote controls, tablets, and touch screens, to make for easier cleaning. Remember to follow manufacturer instructions. If using an alcohol-based wipe or spray, always dry thoroughly after.

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Footwear

A small, early-release April 2020 study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases found that the novel coronavirus could be spread by shoes. The researchers found the soles of the ICU medical staff in two hospitals in Wuhan, China, tested positive. They concluded the soles could potentially function as carriers. Covid-19 or not, it’s yet another reason you should take off your shoes the moment you enter the house. Keep them by the door or in a designated shoe area.

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Grocery bags

Unless told otherwise, you’re allowed to bring in clean reusable fabric bags to your grocery store, according to Health Canada. Still, you may want to consider using the bags offered at grocery stores.

Since there are no data on whether grocery items themselves—think pasta boxes, bread loaves, and frozen veggie bags—truly need to be disinfected, it may be overkill to attempt decontamination on every single item. The better bet, supported by data: Wash your hands before handling any bags or food. And once you’re done washing the produce and putting away the (unlikely but potentially contaminated) groceries, wipe down countertops with disinfectant and wash your hands again.

The ultimate goal: Don’t touch your face until your hands are clean. (Here’s more on how to protect yourself from coronavirus while grocery shopping.)

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Hands

This is a big one, and can’t be repeated enough. Make sure you’re washing your hands vigorously for 20 seconds with soap and water after every interaction with another person, high-touch surface, or excursion out of your home. Hand washing remains one of the best ways to slow the spread—but avoid making these common handwashing mistakes.

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iPhone

One of the items you touch the most, your cell phone is likely rife with germs—making it a prime candidate for daily disinfecting, now more than ever, says Dr. Nanos. It’s important to follow manufacturer recommendations, but Apple, Google, Samsung, and Nokia all allow the use of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipes. Remove the case and clean separately, avoid the ports and speaker, and never use a compressed air device. If you’re still confused, here’s the right way to disinfect your phone to kill coronavirus.

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Jars

Covid-19 could last on glass and stainless steel somewhere between three and seven days, according to a few studies, including an April 2020 study published in The Lancet. This means you have two practical options for your jars and cans: Quarantine them for up to a week before use, or disinfect before using, either with disinfecting wipes or spray, or soap and water.

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Keys

Unless you’re an essential worker, your keys probably aren’t getting as much use these days. Still, they’re one of the highest-touch items in your house, as well as made from stainless steel (one of the surfaces Covid-19 can survive on the longest) making disinfecting them after use a priority.

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Light switches

Like all areas that you repeatedly touch throughout the day, light switches are a hot spot for germs—and because they’re plastic, Covid-19 itself can survive for up to three days. Eliminate potential transmission by disinfecting with a wipe or spray of at least 70 percent  alcohol.

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Mail

It’s one of the most pressing questions when it comes to common household items: Should you be disinfecting your mail?

Coronavirus was found to survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours, while its duration on paper is only about three hours. You could put your mail into quarantine before opening. Or, you could choose to wipe down every last parcel and envelope. However, because the primary method of infection is still thought to be person-to-person droplet transmission, rather than contact transmission—i.e., somebody infected coughing or sneezing on you, instead of touching an infected surface and then your eyes, nose or mouth. So, you likely don’t need to disinfect your mail. The better bet is to simply wash your hands after handling.

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Napkins

Unless you’ve stocked up on groceries and have a chef in the house, you may have increased your takeout consumption. (Worried about takeout? These food safety tips will help put your mind at ease.) Because many people are asymptomatic, it’s theoretically possible that workers packing or delivering your food could be shedding the virus unknowingly. And while you can microwave or heat your food, items like napkins or plastic forks might be contaminated.

However, it’s worth repeating that the CDC says droplets (i.e. coughs and sneezes) are mainly how it’s transmitted, not through surfaces and objects. Still, if you’re a ‘better safe than sorry’ type, you can toss or recycle any packaging that comes with your delivery—and then thoroughly wash your hands after.

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Office

Regardless of whether you have a separate home office for all those Zoom calls and video meetings, if you are able to work from home you probably have carved out a dedicated space and spend hours hunkered down there each day. All of the items in that space—whether carpet, couch, cushions, or desk—could use regular disinfecting or a wipe-down. Forgo the disinfecting wipes in favour of a spray. Lysol or Clorox can easily pull triple-duty, tackling your carpet, cushions, and desk surface. For delicate hardwood floors, try vinegar diluted in a gallon of water with a soft mop—and avoid potentially damaging bleach.

(Working from home amid the Covid-19 pandemic? You might find these posture-enhancing desk stretches helpful.)

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Plastic

As previously stated, Covid-19 can live for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel, the longest duration on the materials examined. (The shortest duration? Copper: Approximately three to four hours.) Whether it’s plastic cling-wrap or your plastic cell phone case, make sure you’re wiping down materials with an alcohol-based disinfectant of at least 70 percent alcohol, and then wash your hands after.

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Quarters

Made of a combination of copper and nickel, quarters carry a lot of germ opportunities. It’s unrealistic—and unnecessary—to expect people to disinfect every single one of their coins, so after you handle them (perhaps for coin-operated laundry machines) make sure you clean your hands properly.

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Remote controls

It’s a safe bet that your remote control is probably getting more use than ever. As (likely) one of the highest-touch electronics in your home—hello, Netflix—make sure to disinfect it on a daily basis. Just like other electronics, the CDC advises that you put a wipeable cover on electronics and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfecting. However, if no guidance is provided, opt for alcohol-based wipes or spray that contain a least 70 percent alcohol. Proceed to dry the surface thoroughly.

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Steering wheel

With most car interiors made from plastic, which can harbour Covid-19 for up to three days, regularly disinfecting inside your vehicle is important. Focus on the items in your car that get regular use: The steering wheel, of course, but also the lane changer and windshield wiper, the radio, thermostat, and window buttons, the gear shift, and the doorknobs.

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Toys

Kids are not known for their hygiene practices, with babies and toddlers putting everything in their mouths, and even younger school-age kids often needing prompting to wash their hands. While most of the known Covid-19 cases have been in adults—and thankfully the children who have had it typically present mild symptoms—kids can still be carriers. The CDC recommends laundering children’s items, including washable plush toys. For plastic and wooden toys, as well as play spaces, disinfect regularly.

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Underwear

Can coronavirus be transmitted fecally? The virus has been detected in stool, according to a February 2020 study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, while a March 2020 article in Gastroenterology found potential fecal-oral transmission, suggesting yes. However, there’s no special handling of underwear required. Hot water and the hot dry cycle is enough to kill the virus. Within your bathroom, a toilet-bowl cleaner is specially designed to kill viruses and bacteria, so the normal bowl cleaner you use will be effective on Covid-19.

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Vodka

Alcohol-based disinfectants are hugely helpful (not to mention incredibly in-demand) in the fight against Covid-19. But, drinking alcohol does not kill coronavirus in your system, the World Health Organization confirms. That doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally enjoy a nice glass of something—just keep in mind that alcohol weakens immunity. (Here’s why you should watch your alcohol intake during the coronavirus outbreak.)

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Wallet

Think about it: When was the last time you cleaned your wallet, an item you use literally every day? Wallets made from durable materials such as canvas or synthetic plastic can handle disinfecting wipe. But, fragile leather wallets require more caution: Use a special leather-cleansing cloth, or try a microfibre cloth. The same holds true for other leather goods you might regularly use, like purses.

It’s equally important to clean what’s inside your wallet. According to a 2018 study by the University of Texas at Austin in conjunction with CreditCards.com, your credit cards could be among the dirtiest things you regularly touch. And as plastic, Covid-19 could survive on these surfaces for up to three days. Alcohol-based disinfecting wipes will do the trick. Or, you could use plain soap and water for 20 seconds (just as with your hands) before drying.

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Xbox

Have multiple kids or teenagers using the Xbox? Make sure to keep everybody safe by regular disinfecting the unit. Follow the rules for electronics: An alcohol-based wipe of at least 70 percent alcohol before drying.

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Yoga mat

If you’re homebound indoors and cut off from non-essential places like the gym, you may be trying to stay healthy through at-home activities like yoga or weight lifting. Make sure you’re disinfecting your yoga mat, dumbbells, or at-home stationary bike. This especially applies if they’re in regular rotation or shared with other members of your household. (In fact, pandemic or not, it’s good practice to regularly and thoroughly sanitize your workout equipment, period.) Disinfectant wipes will do the trick—and after every use, wash your hands. (Plus, here are some workout moves you can do with everyday objects you have at home.)

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Zebra

Sure, you likely don’t have a zebra on your property, but you might have other pets, especially dogs or cats. If you’re worried about the potential transmission of coronavirus to your pets, it’s only natural, especially following the news that a tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo tested positive. Currently, the CDC does not have evidence that pets are a source of infection, or that they can spread Covid-19 to people.

There’s no special precaution or sanitizing you need to take for your pets. But, the CDC cautions that good hygiene, including washing hands, is always smart pet practice. And if you are in self-isolation at home because you have or think you might have Covid-19, it’s best to avoid your pet until you are better. “If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets,” according to the CDC.

Next, find out which telehealth services are available to Canadians during the pandemic.