Everything Your Family Needs to Know About Disinfecting Your Home, Now That Kids Are Going Back to School

published Aug 11, 2021
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A woman in a kitchen pulling a disinfecting wipe out of its container
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Now that you’re vaccinated, you might be wondering if you can go back to your old hand sanitizer-free days. Do you still need to wash your hands every time you return home? Do you need to be wiping down surfaces? What, exactly, do we need to keep disinfecting … if anything? This is all further complicated by back-to-school season, where exposure levels are increased all around.

We asked a few infectious disease experts — Dr. Dawn Nolt, professor of pediatrics (infectious diseases) in the Oregon Health Sciences School of Medicine and Dr. Anne Liu, infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care — to enlighten us on what we need to know about keeping the COVID-19 germs at bay. Their insights should help clear up any confusion.

Credit: Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

Do we still need to sanitize our hands before or after touching a public surface, like a door handle?

“The risk of getting COVID-19 from any surface (at home or in public places) is minuscule,” says Nolt. “But cleaning your hands is always necessary because there are more germs out there than COVID-19! And many of those non-COVID-19 germs can survive on surfaces.” 

Liu says that because surface transmission is not a major source of COVID-19 virus spread (you don’t need to sanitize your groceries, for example) but it’s still important to “continue hand hygiene and regularly clean high-touch shared surfaces, not only for COVID-19 but also for the many other respiratory viruses that continue to circulate.”

Great. But, um, what exactly is good hand hygiene?

“Cleaning your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer,” says Nolt. The CDC recommends everyone in your household wash their hands frequently — especially when they come home after being outside. Each hand-washing session should last for at least 20 seconds. Run through what good hand hygiene looks like with your kids, so that they’ll be able to practice it when they are at school or away from you. Be sure to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in their backpacks for easy access as well.

Credit: Apartment Therapy

What should I use for cleaning surfaces? Can I use regular cleaning products or do I need to use sanitizing products? Does it depend on if I have unvaccinated visitors in my house?

The CDC says, in most cases, simply cleaning surfaces with household cleaners that contain soap or detergents is enough to reduce the amount of germs on surfaces, remove more virus particles, and decrease the risk of infection.

“High-touch surfaces should be cleaned regularly and after having visitors,” Nolt adds. “Regular cleaning products and procedures are fine regardless of visitors’ vaccination status. However, if the visitor or someone in your household is sick, then disinfecting products should be used after cleaning to remove remaining germs that survived the cleaning process.”

Read more: The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting at Apartment Therapy

The CDC says disinfection, which generally requires cleaning products that contain alcohol or bleach, is also a good idea if your household includes someone who is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, maybe because they can’t get vaccinated or have underlying health problems. Be sure to ventilate the area while you use disinfectants. “A mask and gloves should be used to protect your eyes and hands from harsh cleaning/disinfection products,” says Nolt.

What surfaces should I concentrate on cleaning or sanitizing? Do I have to spray couches or carpets with disinfectant spray?

“I would focus on high-touch shared surfaces like doorknobs and faucets,” says Liu. “Don’t worry about the couches and carpets. No need to don the bunny suit and spray the house down.”

The CDC recommends focusing on non-porous surfaces that get lots of use, like tables, light switches, countertops, and drawer handles. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

If I’ve been vaccinated and someone in my household gets sick with COVID-19, do I still need to wear a mask and gloves when cleaning/sanitizing the areas they’re in?

“Yes,” says Liu. “More importantly, wear a mask when sharing space with the sick individual.”

The CDC says that if you can wait 24 hours after the sick person leaves the area, there’s no need to mask up or use disinfectants. Just regular cleaning supplies will do. 

Do you have any other cleaning-related questions around covid and vaccinated life? Leave them in the comments below.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: Everything You Need to Know About Disinfecting Now That You’re Vaccinated