How to Use Disinfectant Wipes Correctly

We use disinfectants in our everyday lives. Kitchen counters, tables and bathrooms are surfaces that we habitually clean with our chosen cleaners. Now, with people being so careful about COVID-19, they are even more fastidious than usual. And, many of us are wondering if the wipes we turn to are as effective as we think. Additionally, in our regular routine, we don't wonder if we are using them correctly; "good enough" is fine under normal circumstances. Now, we want to know the absolute best way to get our surfaces as possible.

There's a difference between the words sanitizing and disinfecting. Sanitizing means cleaning and reducing the amount of germs on a surface. Disinfecting is a more thorough cleaning that kills bacteria and viruses. Usually, in our own homes where we don't have to do more than sanitize. When it's only ourselves and close friends and family that come into our owns, sanitizing is enough. Now, when the virus may be on mail and other things coming into our homes, disinfecting becomes our top priority.

"Sanitizing a surface simply means you're reducing microorganisms to levels that are considered safe, rather than eliminating or killing them," said Dr. Rodney Rohde, associate dean of research and professor of virology at the College of Health Professions at Texas State Univ. Sanitizing won't remove the virus from your house. Hand wipes and other cleaning products that are safe to be left on your skin won't make the cut when you are looking to clean your house.

When you get your wipes, read the label. Just like similar foods can have wildly different nutritional values, cleaning wipes can have different instructions. For instance, Clorox wipes are effective only if they wet the area you're cleaning. The instructions say, "Use enough wipes for treated surface to remain visibly wet for 4 minutes. To kill viruses, let stand 15 seconds."

Most of use would expect the cleaning solution to do its job immediately. That's not the cause because "they're all chemicals that have to react," said Erica Hartman, an environmental microbiologist from Northwestern Univ. "And those chemical reactions aren't instantaneous — they take a certain amount of time. So what you're doing when you're keeping the surface wet is you're basically allowing time, allowing the chemical reactions to take place."

If a wipe has to leave an area visibly wet for four minutes, one wipe most likely won't work for your kitchen table. When you try to use a single wipe for a large area, you usually find that, by the end, you're essentially wiping with a damp cloth. There is no math to show exactly how many wipes you need, just follow that rule of "visibly wet for four minutes." But, again, that's just for Clorox wipes, others should be wet for longer. If you use the wipe while it's drying out, you may be spreading germs around instead of cleaning anything.  

You can make your own wipes using a paper towel and a disinfectant like bleach. The EPA put out a list of cleaning fluids that are effective against COVID-19. For those cleaners, a good rule of thumb is that they should be wet for 10 minutes. Unfortunately, natural wipes and cleaners might not be up to the challenge of killing the virus on surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using chemical cleaners to protect yourself from harm. Or, if you have sensitive skin, wear gloves while cleaning.
April 23, 2020
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