Many Millions of Americans Don’t Know How To Prepare an Effective Cleaning Solution—Here’s How To Do It Safely

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Photo: Getty Images / Agnieszka Marcinska / EyeEm
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published findings from a survey regarding safe household cleaning and disinfection for COVID-19 prevention. Among some of the more staggering results—39 percent of respondents reported engaging in non-recommended high-risk practices like washing food products with bleach and applying household cleaning or disinfectant products to bare skin—lay that a quarter of Americans don't know how to make a cleaning solution.

Roughly half of those surveyed were not aware that you're never supposed to mix bleach with ammonia, but only 35 percent knew it shouldn't be mixed with vinegar and just a quarter knew that you should only use room temperature water to make a cleaning solution. (Honestly, I knew the ammonia part, but that's it.) To talk us through how to make a cleaning solution, Karen Hoffmann, RN, immediate past president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), is here to walk us through it.

"Household cleaning can be accomplished using CDC-recommended products sold in grocery stores, but if these items are scarce, or you want to save money, you can learn how to make effective cleaning solutions at home," says Hoffmann. "There are three household products the CDC recommends as effective against SARs-COV-2. These are 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 70 percent alcohol, and a diluted household bleach solution with a one-minute wet-contact time." If household bleach is mixed and used properly, it can be as effective as EPA-registered products.

Before you disinfect, you'll want to clean (yes, they're different), so start by cleaning the surface of any visible dirt and debris.

Read the label on your bleach and make sure it's good to use. "Before using, make sure that bleach is appropriate for the surface you are cleaning and that the product is not past its expiration date. Check the label to see if your bleach is intended for disinfection and has a sodium hypochlorite concentration of 5 to 6 percent. Some bleaches, such as those designed for safe use on colored clothing or for whitening may not be suitable for disinfection."

Hofmann says you can make a diluted bleach solution by mixing 1/3 cup household bleach per gallon of room temperature water, or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. For more surface-specific rations, check out this CDC guide. Apply the solution to the surface you're disinfecting and let it sit for at least one minute before washing away. "According to the CDC, bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection for up to 24 hours," says Hoffmann.

To stay safe, Hoffmann says there are a few big things to keep in mind. "Follow the CDC recommended instructions for use and proper ventilation," she says. "Don’t mix chemicals such as bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. When working with bleach, work in a well-ventilated area, protect your skin by wearing gloves, and consider eye protection. Store ingredients and cleaning solutions out of reach of children."

When disinfecting, Hoffmann says it's important to target frequently touched spots like door handles, light switches, TV remotes, appliance handles, and railings. "Based on our current understanding of COVID-19, the virus does not appear to live long on household surfaces. Never-the-less, it’s important to keep household surfaces clean," she says. "Hand hygiene is the most important way to prevent germs from making you sick. Wash your hands frequently, keep them away from your face, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wear a face-covering or a mask if social distance cannot be maintained."

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