By Margaret Boyles

It’s time for spring-cleaning. With COVID-19, we’re also thinking about disinfecting the home. The good news is that coronavirus is easily destroyed by most disinfectants. But what is the best “disinfectant”—and what is not (e.g., vinegar)? Here are some facts to dispel the confusion—plus helpful tips on cleaning.

Much of the COVID-19 “information” making the rounds seem abstract and confusing. How much do we really need to disinfect and how? Let’s first review what we mean by “disinfecting.”


Did you know? There are actually different levels of cleaning defined by the CDC. It’s all about the level of germs and microbial organisms left behind.

  • Cleaning: Removing visible debris, dirt, and dust. You may or may not kill bacteria. 
  • Sanitizing: Reducing, not killing, the number and growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. We should regularly sanitize food preparation areas, doorknobs, light switches, computer services, mobile phones, faucets, stair rails, and bed linens. 
  • Disinfecting: Killing viruses and germs and microscopic organisms. Stopping the spread of infectious microbes. We don’t always need a disinfectant. Overusing disinfectant products can create resistant microbes. However, we DO need a disinfectant when there is someone ill in the house or someone has a compromised immune system.

Tip: For both sanitizing and disinfecting, all cleaners (including wipes) must remain on a surface for 4 to 10 minutes to effectively kill germs and bacteria. A quick wipe is NOT enough.


Since we’re dealing with COVID-19, let’s talk about disinfecting. What we know right now:

  • COVID-19 can remain on hard surfaces for days.
  • Disinfect all hard surfaces.
  • Use only EPA-approved disinfecting agents.
  • When disinfecting, wear disposable gloves and discard them after use.

Do you really need to disinfect all of your counters and tabletops, bedside tables, appliances, door handles, and faucets? 

Maybe not, as long as nobody in the household is sick or feeling sick, and as long as no one has come into the house or left the house for work, shopping, or errands and returned. Consider setting up an outdoor hand-washing station (bucket of water, soap, paper towels or hand towels) for household members returning.

If someone does show symptoms, clean the surfaces several times a day with a product that kills viruses.


The encouraging news is that coronaviruses are some of the easiest types of viruses to kill. They are not hardy and are easily destroyed by good disinfecting products. According to the EPA, disinfectants break a protective coating around the coronavirus so that it can’t spread to another cell.

  1. Soap and water
  2. Bleach [Wear gloves! Use 5 tablespoons (⅓ cup) of bleach in 1 gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach in 1 quart of water.]
  3. Isopropyl alcohol (Don’t dilute.)
  4. Hydrogen peroxide (Don’t dilute.)

Of course, if you don’t use the products correctly, you defeat the entire purpose. Consult this detailed information site developed by Consumer Reports. It tells you when and how to disinfect, which products to use, and, importantly, which products won’t work. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all disinfection products.


Here are a few products that some folks think help but in reality do very little:

  1. White distilled vinegar. We all know that vinegar has many wonderful household uses, but it’s not a disinfectant that kills coronavirus.
  2. Vodka
  3. Homemade hand sanitizers

If you have companion animals at home, check out, “Quarantine the cat? Disinfect the dog? The latest advice about the coronavirus and your pets


One more reminder:  Hand-washing is still your best defense against COVID-19. It may not sound fancy, but it works when done right. See how to properly wash your hands.

If your hands start to feel dried out, be sure to moisturize! You don’t want cracked skin that exposes your body to germs. See our tips on relief for dry hands and skin

Keep up your hand-washing practice, stay home, keep talking the positive self-talk, and comfort your loved ones—at home or remotely.

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