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COVID-19 coronavirus: do you need to disinfect your home?

As concern around the spread of coronavirus grows and panic buying soap and cleaning supplies continues, two experts reveal how often you should be cleaning your home and the best products to use to protect your family.

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If there's one thing we're all doing more of at the moment, it's washing our hands to protect against coronavirus. Antibacterial wipes, hand santisers and soaps are flying off the shelves as everyone pays extra care to keeping themselves germ-free.

But what about our homes? Since the government advice that the most vulnerable should stay at home to shield themselves, and that everyone who can should stay home to protect themselves and others, we're all spending more time at home.

If we're being more diligent in washing our hands do we also need to be keeping our homes disinfected to avoid the spread of the virus? Sarah Fozzard, Head of Home Hygiene at pharmaceutical company Thornton and Ross, and Nigel Bearman, managing director at cleaning service Daily Poppins, tell us more.

Squeaky clean

Keeping your home clean and disinfected will prevent the spread of coronavirus, and any other virus for that matter. If no one in your household is showing symptoms or has been diagnosed, then the chances of the virus living on a surface in your home are less likely. But that doesn't mean the risk is non-existent, especially if any member of the household needs to leave the house.

The most important surfaces to clean regularly are the ones you touch most often, Fozzard explains. This will reduce the likelihood of the virus transferring from a surface to your hands.

At the moment it's still unclear how long the virus can survive outside the body, but a recent US study found it could last on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for up to three days and on cardboard for up to a day. Lots of factors such as outside temperature affect this survival rate, and it's not clear if just picking up a small number of viruses is enough to transmit the infection. However, taking 'days rather than hours' is a good place to start.

"With research suggesting that human coronaviruses can remain infectious on surfaces for a matter of days, establishing a hygiene routine with some simple, everyday preventative steps can help avoid the spread of respiratory viruses," Fozzard says.

"Wiping down high traffic areas will reduce the spread of viruses in areas which come into contact with various people throughout the day."

These areas include:

  • Desks
  • Keyboards
  • Phones
  • Door handles
  • Entrance doors
  • Shared kitchens and bathrooms
  • Light switches
  • Car steering wheels
  • Remote controls

She suggests using a disinfectant to clean surfaces in your home.

"Floor surfaces receive a high amount of traffic on a daily basis. If outdoor shoes aren't removed, or if pets live in the home, there is the added risk of bringing in bacteria and viruses from the outside; therefore it is vital that floor surfaces are not only cleaned but disinfected correctly," she adds.

"It's not enough to do a deep clean every few days. You should make a habit of cleaning then disinfecting your surfaces at least once a day, but more often if they're in heavy use."

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Perfect products

Not only is it important to keep your home clean, you need to be using the right products to make sure any nasty germs are killed.

"Diluted bleach, cleaners with at least 70% alcohol and disinfectants have all been recommended," Bearman says.

"Keep a dedicated pair of rubber gloves for disinfecting potentially contaminated areas, and don't use them for anything else. Always disinfect and boil-wash cloths used for cleaning."

Be sure to read the instructions on your cleaning products or you'll risk them being ineffective, Fozzard explains.

"Read the instructions on the back of your disinfectant properly. For disinfectants to work, they need to be in contact with the surface for five minutes to kill bacteria and viruses," she adds. "Take extra care to ensure that pets and children do not make contact with disinfected surfaces until they're dry.

"In cases where you're cleaning something that might be contaminated or, for example, has been sneezed on or touched by someone ill, it's a good idea to stick to paper towels and kitchen roll rather than reusable cloths."

Give anti-bac the sack?

While stocking up on antibacterial wipes and cleaners may seem like the right thing to do, they won't actually protect you from coronavirus, or any other virus.

That's because bacteria and viruses are two different germs, therefore they are killed by different products.

But don't go throwing all your antibacterial cleaners away just yet, some may still be effective.

"Most antibacterial cleaners are also disinfectants, it's just that they've been specially marketed to emphasise their antibacterial properties," Bearman says.

"Viruses are more resistant to disinfectants but can still be killed with them. Coronavirus is an envelope virus, which means it is 'enveloped' in a fatty layer that can be more easily broken down by cleaning supplies."

Fozzard recommends checking the label to ensure the product has been tested against bacteria and viruses.

"Not all household cleaning products contain virus-killing active ingredients. Some antibacterial products may not be effective against viruses, so it's important to select a product that states 'Kills 99.9% bacteria and viruses' on the packaging," she says.

"In terms of disease prevention, cleaning and disinfection are different actions, but it's important to do both. Cleaning is the removal of surface dirt and grime, whilst disinfectants actually kill bacteria and viruses.

Our advice is to begin by cleaning the surface and removing the dirt, using an all-purpose cleaner and then apply disinfectant afterward to get rid of the bacteria."

This article was updated on 25th March following new government advice recommending that everyone should stay home where possible.

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