With nearly all kids out of school in the United States and in many other places around the world, and large numbers of workers telecommuting, many houses are more crowded than usual.
And bathrooms are perhaps the one crucial point in the house where all humans – and therefore microbes – pass through. So during the present pandemic, keeping your toilets, sinks, counters and showers as germ-free as possible is key to keeping you and your family healthy.
The novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is known to live on hard surfaces for up to three days, according to data published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Your bathroom has plenty of those.
“We’d be mostly concerned with the inanimate surfaces,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“Any household disinfectants will work against this virus,” he said. “And soap and water work perfectly well.”
We’ve got a guide to help you think about the area of your house that could become ground zero of the fight against coronavirus.
Make sure you follow the right steps
As you get ready to clean your bathroom, start by making sure to wash your hands.
If you’re using disinfectants, you should pick higher-quality ones. The US Environmental Protection Agency released a five-page list of disinfectants – including Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and certain Lysol sprays – which are strong enough to defeat “harder to kill” viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.
It’s important to focus on cleaning “high-touch” areas of your bathroom including light switches, door knobs and the sink areas in particular. That can also include less obvious areas everyone in the house likely touches, including shower heads, shower curtains and around the toilet seat.
Anything that people touch should be cleaned, whether they have symptoms or not. That includes hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, shavers or other appliances in the bathroom. (You may not have touched razors recently if you’re trying to grow out a gnarly quarantine beard.)
We know you would never forget this, but just a friendly reminder not to forget to make sure devices are assuredly unplugged and turned off before you embark on a deep clean.
You should consider placing a wipeable cover on electronic devices if you can, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises, and try to use a solution that’s at least 70% alcohol.
It pays to be thorough, because droplets capable of carrying the virus can really get around within your bathroom.
Follow the cleaning product maker’s directions
“You don’t have to panic clean,” said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute. But he emphasized that you need to make sure you’re cleaning correctly.
After you wipe down hard surfaces like sinks and counter tops, make sure to leave them wet for 3 to 5 minutes. Who knew? Turns out, the professionals do. The American Cleaning Institute recommends letting the surfaces air-dry, and then rinse them with water.
People aren’t aware of the need to wait, said Sansoni, who noted that’s important to give the cleaning products time to actually work and thoroughly kill germs or viruses.
Think there’s no way you’re doing it wrong? Sansoni cited findings from an Ipsos poll his organization commissioned, which found that 42% of Americans weren’t cleaning or disinfecting the right way – and could be leaving themselves vulnerable.
Many people aren’t following directions printed on product labels, including allowing cleaning products enough time to work, he said. Please make sure you’re abiding by the instructions on your products, and that you’re using them as the manufacturer intended.
Use separate bathrooms if a family member is sick
If a family member or roommate living with you is showing Covid-19 symptoms, it’s important to assign them their own specific bathroom and to separate that person from others.
If you don’t have more than one bathroom, have the person with symptoms clean surfaces they’ve touched after they use the bathroom, according to the CDC.
If they’re too sick to clean, your second option is to have a healthy person clean the area. Wait as long as you can before entering, wear a mask and gloves to clean and wash the mask and your clothes after cleaning. (Toss the gloves.)
That might not be an option if your patient needs help using the bathroom.
“You may have to help the person use the facilities,” Schaffner said. “You can assign one person in the family to help them and to establish their routine.”
If you’re in close quarters with someone showing Covid-19 symptoms, you absolutely must protect yourself with a mask at minimum, he emphasized.
Protect yourself if you’re helping a sick family member
In addition to a mask, Schaffner recommended wearing gloves and some sort of other garment over your regular clothes if you’re caring for an ill person in the bathroom. “Watch the person, see what they touch, and wipe that off,” he said.
That could include the toilet seat, which may receive a lot of action since diarrhea and vomiting are common Covid-19 symptoms.
As an additional precaution, Schaffner also recommended placing any sanitizing wipes you use in a plastic bag and throwing that in the garbage. Then change your clothes after you’re done cleaning the bathroom or helping someone else use it.
If someone in your home is sick, it’s especially important to wash any of their towels or dirty clothes separately.
For towels, bath mats, cloth shower curtains and other soft materials, the CDC recommends laundering them according to the manufacturer’s directions with the “warmest appropriate water setting.” Then dry those items completely.
Soap can work even better than disinfecting products
“By now you know that viruses, including the coronavirus, can live on surfaces for awhile – several hours, even several days – which means we have to be cleaning all the time,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said in a video.
That gets complicated when you’re burning through disinfectants and sanitizing wipes, and store shelves with those products are all to often bare.
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But you may already have soap at home, and it could be easier to find in a supermarket. And the good news? “Many scientists argue it’s actually a better alternative,” Gupta said.
There’s scientific backing for this thinking: At a microscopic level, the novel coronavirus is surrounded by a “lipid envelope.” Soap works on the virus by tearing through that layer of lipids that surrounds the proteins inside and breaking apart the virus.
The process is similar to how dish soap eats away at grease on a pan in ways that plain water can’t.
Finish the job correctly
Finishing the cleaning job right is crucial.
Gupta explained that you don’t necessarily have to wear gloves as you clean.
But if you do, make sure when you’re done to remove them by sliding your finger in underneath their opening so you don’t touch the exposed outer side with your bare hands.
And then wash your hands one last time after you’ve thrown away your gloves.