5 Disinfecting Mistakes You’re Probably Making in Your Home

published Aug 21, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

It’s safe to say 2020 (and 2021!) is a year we learned a lot more than we ever thought we’d know (or want to know) about disinfecting. From how to do laundry in a pandemic to how to effectively eliminate viruses from household surfaces, we all gained a lot of new wisdom about how to take care of our homes and how to take care of ourselves.

And yet, chances are you’re probably still making some mistakes. Here are some of the most important lessons we learned about what NOT to do when it comes to disinfecting.

1. You’re not cleaning before you disinfect (or sanitize).

Did you know disinfectants won’t work on surfaces that aren’t clean? Here’s why: Viruses and bacteria can hide in organic material and dirt lingering on your home’s surfaces, which makes any disinfectant you try to use less effective. Always use a detergent, like an all-purpose cleaner or soap and water, before using disinfectant.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. You’re pre-diluting your bleach.

Bleach is an effective solution for killing germs, including the novel coronavirus. To make sure it does its job, it’s important to dilute it to the right strength. But! Many people make the mistake of doing this ahead of time in bigger batches. That’s a good idea in theory, but bleach is less stable in its diluted form, which means temperature, light, or contamination can cause it to degrade. In other words, make only as much bleach solution as you actually need and use it right away.

3. You’re using bleach in a spray bottle.

Unfortunately, bleach is highly reactive. You’ll want to avoid combining it with anything else — including your spray bottle. Bleach can react with the metal parts of the trigger spray nozzle, causing rusting that can reduce the cleaning agent’s effectiveness. Instead, use a rag that’s saturated with the diluted bleach solution.

Credit: Heather McClees

4. You’re using 91% alcohol instead of 70%.

Bleach isn’t the only EPA-backed disinfectant: You can also use rubbing alcohol to kill viruses and bacteria. It makes sense to assume the higher the percentage, the more effective, but that’s not necessarily the case. Ninety percent (or higher) alcohol solution can actually be too powerful in some scenarios — like when you’re cleaning food surfaces. It has to do with the water content, which allows the solution to permeate the bacteria cell wall, and zap the whole thing.

5. You’re not allowing for proper contact time.

Don’t be so quick to wipe away that disinfectant after you apply it. To do their jobs, disinfecting solutions have to stay in contact with the surface for a specified length of time, which varies by product. Let’s say you use Clorox Wipes to disinfect your counter. According to the product instructions, you need to allow the treated surface to remain visibly wet for four minutes. But that’s not a black-and-white rule: Every disinfectant has its own contact time. The takeaway? Always follow instructions on the package.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 5 Disinfecting Mistakes You’re Probably Making