How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home to Protect Against COVID-19 and Cold and Flu Season

With COVID-19 still looming and ordinary cold and flu season returning, now's a good time to refresh your cleaning and disinfecting routine.

variety of cleaning products in a plastic caddy
Photo: Meredith

Know the Lingo

There's a difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Cleaning is a physical process that removes grime and dirt. It may reduce the number of germs, but it doesn't necessarily kill them.
  • Disinfecting, a chemical process, kills germs on surfaces.
  • Sanitizing is reducing the number of germs to a safe level through cleaning or disinfecting methods.

Disinfect Hot Spots

Most studies show that the flu virus can live on surfaces and potentially infect for up to 48 hours. The CDC reports that, while risk of COVID-19 infection from surfaces is low, the virus can last on nonporous indoor surfaces for 72 hours or more. Daily cleaning and disinfecting can reduce your risk. A list of approved virus-mitigating products can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency's website. And note manufacturer directions: Many advise letting their product sit on surfaces for a specific amount of time before wiping it off. Focus on high-contact spots like tables, hardback chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets, and sinks.

Sanitize Laundry

Fabrics such as blankets, sheets, pillows, towels, washcloths, and clothing can harbor and spread dangerous bacteria. If your washing machine has a sanitize function, use it when cleaning infected laundry. Otherwise, use the highest temperature setting. For delicates that require lower heat, use liquid bleach or laundry sanitizers labeled to kill at least 99 percent of bacteria.

Deep-Clean Appliances

For dishes and laundry to be properly sanitized, your dishwasher and washing machine need periodic deep-cleaning. Common practices include emptying food and lint traps, and running a cycle on the highest heat setting with added vinegar in the detergent basin or baking soda in the bottom of the machine. (Follow manufacturer's directions.) Some also recommend using sanitizing tablets or bleach.

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2021 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.


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