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CDC: Cleaning Most Surfaces With Soap and Water Is Enough To Curb COVID-19

Cleaning surfaces.

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Key Takeaways

  • The CDC has released detailed guidance on cleaning your home to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
  • A standard household clean with soap or detergent is sufficient in most cases.
  • Disinfectants can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when someone in your home is sick.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, many people rushed to buy all the disinfectants they could find. But now, it seems, that level of cleaning power may not be necessary for most homes.

That’s the takeaway from in-depth new cleaning guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC specifically details how to clean your home under normal circumstances, as well as when someone in your household is sick with COVID-19.

There are a lot of specific tips in the guidance but one in particular stands out: The CDC says cleaning with soap and water or a detergent is effective for killing germs on surfaces under most circumstances.

Here’s a full breakdown of the guidance, plus why doctors say it matters.

How to Clean Your Home Under Normal Circumstances

If no one in your home is sick, the CDC recommends cleaning surfaces with a household cleaner that contains soap or detergent. “Disinfection to reduce transmission of COVID-19 at home is likely not needed unless someone in your home is sick or if someone who is positive for COVID-19 has been in your home within the last 24 hours,” they state.

The CDC recommends cleaning “regularly,” and offers the following advice:

  • Clean high-touch surfaces regularly and after you have visitors in your home.
  • Focus on high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, handles, light switches, and countertops.
  • Clean other surfaces in your home when they are visibly dirty or as needed. Clean them more frequently if people in your household are more likely to get sick from COVID-19.
  • Clean surfaces using a product that’s designed for that surface.

How to Clean Your Home When Someone Is Sick

If someone in your home has COVID-19, the CDC recommends adding disinfection to your normal cleaning. Disinfecting kills any remaining germs on surfaces—including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19—and reduces the spread of germs.

 Disinfection Tips

The CDC suggests the following for disinfection:

  • Always read the label for specific instructions.
  • Many products recommend that you keep the surface you are disinfecting wet for a period of time (the label will give you specifics).
  • Clean visibly dirty surfaces with household cleaners that contain soap or detergent before you disinfect if your disinfectant product doesn’t have a cleaning agent.
  • Use a disinfectant product from the Environmental Protection Agency’s List N, which details products that are effective against COVID-19.
  • Bleach may be used if a List N product isn’t available.
  • Wear gloves while you clean.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

How to Clean and Disinfect Bathrooms and Bedrooms

If the sick person in your household is able to clean, the CDC recommends giving them dedicated cleaning and disinfecting supplies, like tissues, paper towels, cleaners, and disinfectants. If the person who is sick is unable to clean, wear a mask around them and urge them to do the same. Wear gloves, and only clean and disinfect the area around the person who is sick when needed to limit you contact with them. Open outside doors and windows, and use fans and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) settings to increase air circulation while you clean.

After the person who was sick is no longer quarantining, the CDC recommends trying to wait at least 24 hours to clean the areas they used, such as the bedroom and bathroom.

How to Clean and Disinfect Other Surfaces in Your House

The CDC also has advice on how to clean additional surfaces in your home, including soft surfaces, laundry, and electronics.

Soft surfaces (carpets, rugs, and drapes):

  • Clean the surfaces with soap and water or with cleaners made for use on these surfaces.
  • If possible, launder them using the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely.
  • Disinfect using an EPA List N cleaner, if available
  • Vacuum as usual.

Laundry:

  • Use the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely.
  • Wear gloves and a mask if handling dirty laundry from a person who is sick.
  • Clean clothes hampers or laundry baskets after use.
  • Wash hands after handling dirty laundry.

The CDC says you can wash dirty laundry from someone who is sick along with laundry from other people.

Electronics:

  • Consider putting a wipeable cover on phones, tablets, touchscreens, keyboards, and remote controls for easier cleaning.
  • If needed, use a disinfectant from the EPA’s List N.

What This Means For You

Cleaning your home with a standard household cleaner should be enough to keep you and your family safe, provided no one in the home has COVID-19. If someone in your household does have COVID-19, cleaning surfaces with a disinfectant can help prevent the spread of the virus.

Doctors Applaud the Advice

“It’s nice that it is spelled out in a way people can understand,” Jamie Alan, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Verywell. “It eliminates the mystery and sets clear guidelines. Clarity is always a good thing.”

The recommendation to use basic household cleaners or soap and water for most household cleaning is surprising, but Alan says it makes sense. “Regular soap and water will kill the coronavirus,” Alan explains. “That's why handwashing is and was stressed so much.”

Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, agrees. “For many viruses, soap and water are effective disinfecting agents,” he tells Verywell. “There is no evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is resistant to soap and water.”

When it comes to using disinfectants, Alan stresses the importance of reading the label. “The mode of killing the coronavirus varies depending on the active ingredient of the disinfectant,” she says. “Some disinfectants take longer to ‘kill' the virus. I usually spray on, leave for a while and do something else, then re-spray and wipe.”

While cleaning is important, Watkins says that “the risk of acquiring COVID-19 from environmental surfaces is low." So getting vaccinated, mask-wearing, and social distancing are still your most important tools for staying safe.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cleaning and disinfecting your home: every day and when someone is sick. Updated April 5, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Science brief: SARS-CoV-2 and surface (fomite) transmission for indoor community environments. April 5, 2021.