Seven steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 at your home or business

It’s hard to sift through coronavirus news right now. We’re all looking for actions to protect ourselves, our families, and employees as we start to plan for gradually returning to normal. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there, particularly around compliance assistance. But there's also misinformation regarding disinfecting products, which has led to a sharp increase in calls to poison control centers since early March 2020. Many cleaning products contain toxic chemicals, so it's important to choose the right products to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals for you, your family, or your employees.

To stay safe while disinfecting your home or business, follow these steps:

1. Clean frequently touched surfaces often

Before you disinfect a surface, use an all-purpose cleaner with safer ingredients to remove dirt and dust. Disinfectants do not work effectively on dirty surfaces.

2. Decide if you really need to disinfect

After cleaning, determine what needs disinfecting. Disinfectants — when used as directed — destroy all the infectious germs on a surface, but do not affect dirt or dust. Is the surface frequently touched? If not, you don’t have to do more than cleaning. Soap and water can get rid of 99% of the bacteria.

3. Choose safer products

Unfortunately, many products falsely claiming to protect against COVID-19 have made their way to online retailers.

Generic window cleaner and paper towel roll.
All-purpose cleaners

For use in your home, look for Cradle to Cradle or Safer Choice labels. For use in your business, look for those as well as Green Seal or Ecologo labels.

Disinfectants

Start with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s list of registered products that prevent the spread of COVID-19. Next, look for disinfectants with the Design for the Environment (DfE) label or products with safer active ingredients like ethanol, isopropanol, hydrogen peroxide, L-Lactic acid, and citric acid.

4. Use products as directed

Never apply cleaning products to yourself or others. Do not ingest them or add them to any food products. Never mix products unless specified in the directions for use. Some combinations of chemicals can create highly toxic acids or gases. Follow the directions provided by the manufacturer on the product label.

5. Follow recommended contact time to disinfect

Contact time (or dwell time) is the length of time the product must stay on the surface visibly wet to be effective against the virus.

There's a tendency to reach for a cloth or sponge to wipe disinfecting products across surfaces. Instead, leave disinfectants glistening wet on the surface you are disinfecting. Allow them to air dry for the amount of time listed on the label. Otherwise, resistant germs can remain and grow.

6. Wash your hands after disinfecting

After using the cleaning or disinfecting product, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds. This reduces your exposure to both the chemicals in the cleaning product and the virus you are working to remove from your home or business surfaces.

7. Stay informed and share with others

Need more information or guidance to share with others? Here are some reliable resources:

  1. Washington State Department of Health’s COVID-19 information.
  2. University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences resource on safer cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting strategies, or on safer disinfectant use during the pandemic.
  3. EPA’s list of registered disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resources for businesses and employers or interim guidance for employers to respond to COVID-19.