Disinfectants 101: 9 things to know

Regular handwashing, consistent social distancing, wearing a mask in public, and frequent disinfection of high-touch objects remain the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the novel coronavirus. But when it comes to cleaning those high-touch objects to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which disinfectants are the most effective? What’s the safest way to use them? And what’s the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? Here are answers to nine of the questions I hear the most frequently as a manager in MD Anderson’s Environmental Health and Safety department. What’s the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? When you clean something, you just remove all visible traces of dust or dirt. It’s like laundering a soiled T-shirt or wiping off a wooden shelf with a cloth and furniture polish. When you disinfect something, your goal is to kill the germs that may be living in it or on it, using heat, light, chemicals or some other means. Scrubbing a toilet bowl with a bleach solution is a good example of disinfecting. Why is that distinction important? If your rubber boots are muddy, you can spray them off with a garden hose and then let them dry on the back porch. But while they may look clean, dirt-free does not equal germ-free. What items and areas should I be disinfecting in my home and how often? Anything that is touched frequently, such as tables, chairs, telephones, keyboards, remote controls, counter tops, light switches, water faucets, refrigerator handles, drawer pulls and door knobs, should be disinfected daily. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, since we...