Regularly cleaning your home is a great way to remove bacteria and viruses that may be hanging out on various surfaces. And when it comes to COVID-19 cleaning at home, most people don’t need to do much more than cleaning with regular soap or detergent and water, according to updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning we can skip harsh disinfectants in many situations.
Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have started deep cleaning their homes with disinfectant products, such as familiar products from Clorox, Lysol, and Purell. (While cleaning products remove dirt and some pathogens, disinfectants actually kill germs.) The idea was well-intentioned because, at that time, it seemed like the coronavirus frequently spread through surfaces. But at this point, experts recognize that the virus actually spreads mainly through respiratory droplets. Although transmission through surfaces (fomite transmission) is still possible, it’s less of a worry than droplet and airborne transmission, which is why face masks, social distancing, and ventilation have become so important in our efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Now the CDC says that, in order to protect against COVID-19, regularly cleaning with basic products or just soap and water is enough for most people. Focus on cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched (such as doorknobs, countertops, tables, and light switches) regularly and after you have visitors in your home. As for other surfaces, you can clean them as needed or when they’re visibly dirty, the CDC says. Under these circumstances, you likely don’t need to use disinfecting products.
But if you or someone else in your household is sick or tests positive for COVID-19, that’s when it’s time to bring out the disinfectants for an extra layer of safety; there are specific detailed CDC guidelines for how to do that safely. If someone in your household has a higher risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms (due to their age or an underlying health condition, for instance), you may want to disinfect regularly as well.
Disinfectants actually kill viruses and bacteria, but not all of them are effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. So it’s important to use disinfectants that are on the EPA’s List N, which ensures that they are actually effective against this virus.
And if you’re going to use disinfectants in your home, it’s crucial to use them safely and according to the product label instructions. These products can be irritating, so in many cases you may want to wear gloves or other personal protective equipment when using them. Disinfectants can be particularly irritating for people with asthma, the EPA says, so if you or someone else in your household has asthma, take precautions to have them avoid the area you’re cleaning or to keep it well ventilated.
Along with other public health tools like washing your hands, getting vaccinated when possible, and wearing a mask in public, regularly cleaning your home is one way to help keep yourself and those around you safe from COVID-19. But now that we’ve learned more about the way this virus is most likely to spread, the CDC says we can take a step back on frequently using home disinfectants—and save them for more high-risk situations.