Are You Killing the Coronavirus When You Clean?

April 2, 2020
Author: Emily Mokwunye, NCPT, PMA Board of Directors

When using disinfecting wipes or sprays, are you doing what you think you’re doing? Are you killing viruses and bacteria? And what about soap and water?

Clorox? Soap & water? Microfiber?
Are you using Clorox, Lysol or other disinfecting wipes and sprays to keep your studio and home clear of the coronavirus? Or are you sticking to good old soap and water? After all, the experts say that’s good enough. Or maybe you’ve fallen in love with microfiber cloths woven with silver because all you need is water to keep your surfaces clean.

Whichever method you’ve chosen, are you positive you’re using it correctly to sufficiently eliminate viruses and bacteria, especially the new coronavirus? Do you know if you’re cleaning your surfaces or disinfecting them? And what’s the difference anyway?

When news of COVID-19 broke, there was a lot of talk amongst Pilates professionals about how to keep equipment and the rest of the studio as virus-free as possible. I heard colleagues admitting to using Clorox wipes on their vinyl upholstery while others chimed in to say they’d happily shorten the life of their vinyl to kill the virus. Totally understandable under the circumstances, right?!

By now, many of us have been mandated to close our studios or have chosen, out of an abundance of caution, to stop seeing clients in person. Depending on your situation, perhaps concerns for killing the virus in the studio have waned, but you’re likely still very cautious about keeping the virus out of your home. So, whether you’re concerned about keeping your equipment and studio disinfected or your home, this article is for you.

Good OL’ disinfecting wipes!
Let’s start with the disinfecting wipes. Go get yours and read the instructions. I mean read ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS! I’m betting you’ll first see instructions for cleaning, which is basically get it wet and wipe it down. Zippity zap! You’re all done. But if you keep reading, depending on the exact product you have, next you’ll see instructions for sanitizing, or disinfecting, or both. If you don’t have a container in your hands right now, I’ll help you out. To sanitize, many products say to use enough wipes to keep the surface wet for at least 30 seconds. To disinfect, most products will instruct you to use enough wipes to keep the surface wet for anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes. You read that right, 4 to 10 minutes! (By the way, disinfecting sprays have the same guidelines. You’re just spraying to keep the surface wet rather than using multiple wipes.)

Cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing: What’s the difference?
The first time I saw those instructions with my own eyes, my immediate thought was, “Four minutes! What the crap?” (I might have used a different word if my container had said 10 minutes.) My second thought was, “Well, what’s the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting? And why are there different instructions?”

So, I Googled it. Here’s what the CDC says:

Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.”

Let’s quickly go a touch deeper in thinking about each of these. We’ll go in reverse order because, for our purposes, we can quickly and easily let go of sanitizing.

The bottom line on sanitizing is this: Without a public health standard to measure against, we have no idea if we’re sanitizing. You can trust, or not, that your product has been tested against such a standard if they’re providing you with sanitizing instructions. ‘Nuff said.

The bottom line on disinfecting is that you’re not killing much of anything if the disinfecting agent is not visibly wet on the surface for a minimum number of minutes, which is way longer than a swipe or two. So, if you’re simply wiping your equipment and household surfaces with a disinfecting wipe or spraying them and immediately wiping it off, you’re not disinfecting.

But then, are you cleaning? And is that good enough?

(This might be a good time to mention that since writing this article, I’ve researched disinfectants that require less than 4 minutes to work, and there are some non-medical grade sprays out there you can get your hands on. One of them is Simple Green® CLEAN FINISH® Disinfectant Cleaner. It takes 2 minutes to completely disinfect.)

Is cleaning good enough? Or is disinfecting better?
I’ll step out on a limb and say if you’re using a wipe, you’re not cleaning as well as you could. If you’re using a cotton cloth, you’re probably doing a better job of cleaning. If you’re using a microfiber cloth (regardless of whether it has silver in it), you’re doing an even better job of cleaning. This is because cleaning is all about removing germs and dirt from the surface.

In order to clean well, the detergent you use (typically soap) needs to break down dirt and grease on the surface so they can be wiped up easily. Since we’re more interested in viruses than grime at the moment, consider that viruses have a sticky factor too. Some viruses are better than others at sticking to things. So, your detergent is also helping viruses be more easily removed from the surface. Additionally, the cloth you use needs to be “grabby” enough to pick up those loosened particles - all the way down to the microscopic level for viruses.

I’ll be completely straight with you, I don’t have research to back this up, but I don’t think the wipes are as “grabby” as cotton cloth. This is evidenced by the pile of dust, dirt, or whatever it is, left at the end of every swipe when I use a Clorox wipe on my toilet tank lids. (Am I the only one with dusty toilet tanks?) However, there is research on how well cotton picks up particles. There is also research stating that microfiber blows cotton away at picking up small particles. So, if cleaning is your jam and you’re not as concerned with disinfecting, I recommend, at the least, using something other than a wipe, and at the best, using microfiber cloths.

But is cleaning good enough during this pandemic? Or is disinfecting better?

Disinfecting and cleaning are both effective means of reducing the risk of spreading infection, and that includes COVID-19. Both, if done properly, reduce viral load on the surface, which means regardless if you’re killing it or removing it, you’re less likely to get infected by it via contact with that surface.

You might also like to know that, even though soap is not effective at killing all types of germs, it is known to be effective against the coronavirus family of viruses. This has to do with the lipid membrane encasing coronaviruses, which is easily broken down by soap rendering the virus useless. Think of it as being the same reason that Dawn dish soap is so good at cleaning oil off your dirty dishes. In both cases, a detergent is breaking down fats. While this new strand, SARS-CoV-2, is still being aggressively researched, this known fact about the coronavirus family in general is why you hear experts saying that cleaning with soap and water for 20 seconds is enough.

The gold standard
But listen, if you really want to go for the gold here, first clean your surfaces with soap, water, and a microfiber cloth. Gently scrub the surface for at least 20 seconds, just like handwashing guidelines. (Much like disinfectants, a swipe or two ain’t gonna cut it.) Then, apply a disinfectant according to instructions for disinfecting. And finally, launder your cleaning cloths frequently and separately from other laundry, even if your cloths have silver in them. You don’t want the viral load in the cloths to outpace either the silver’s or your detergent’s capacity to kill it.

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Category: Business