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Expert tips on how to disinfect your home

Safely disinfect your home
Alcohol and bleach kill viruses without unintentionally causing antibacterial resistance.

Now that we're all home amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, environmental engineer Erica Hartmann has a few tips on how to disinfect your living space — and what areas to target — in a smart and safe way.

Hartmann is an expert on how microbial communities respond to human-made chemicals. Below are four safe cleaning tips.

No need to focus on floors

“Floors do not pose a large risk for infection in homes, so I wouldn’t worrying about disinfecting them.”

If you can’t use soap, nothing beats alcohol or bleach

“Read the ingredients on the label and stick to products with active ingredients like alcohol and bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Alcohol and bleach are really strong cleaning agents, particularly with regard to viruses. I’m not terribly worried about bacteria becoming resistant to alcohol and bleach because they get the job done and then go away. Antimicrobial solutions often leave long-lasting residues that can cause antimicrobial resistance, so avoid using those. They won’t really help kill viruses anyway.”

Disinfection is not instantaneous

“People tend to ignore the needed contact time. For household bleach, for example, it needs to sit on a surface for 10 minutes before you wipe it off.”

Don’t overdo it

“Because bleach is an irritant for your skin, eyes and lungs, be sure your home is well ventilated and wear gloves, which are OK to reuse. Do not mix different solutions because that is dangerous and even deadly. Remember that there is a tradeoff between disinfecting and hurting yourself — as anyone whose eyes have started stinging after using bleach will know.”

Hartmann is an assistant professor of environmental engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.

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