During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning and disinfecting have become more important than ever. Hopefully, you are washing your hands and applying hand sanitizer after touching anything that could possibly be contaminated. But what about your surfaces? Are the household cleaners you’re using actually capable of killing or deactivating coronaviruses? What household cleaners should you turn to at a time like this?
There are thousands of household cleaning solutions out there, and sadly, not all of them are equal. Some make false promises, and others may be effective against some viruses — but not necessarily coronaviruses like COVID-19. The best way to make sure you’re buying and using an effective household cleaner is to look closely at the ingredients list. There are three main active ingredients that make for an effective product: ethanol, quaternary ammonia, and sodium hypochlorite.
Ethanol is an alcohol — arguably the most common form of alcohol, as it is the one found in alcoholic beverages, hand sanitizers, and some gasoline. It works by disrupting the proteins and RNA that comprise the coronavirus. One benefit of ethanol is that it works really quickly; it has been shown to deactivate coronaviruses within 30 seconds.
You don’t find ethanol in a lot of household cleaners because it really needs to be present in a high concentration to work, and it tends to evaporate out of solution really quickly. However, rubbing alcohol is a mixture of ethanol and another type of alcohol called isopropyl alcohol. If you need to disinfect a specific surface or item quickly, you can wipe it down with some rubbing alcohol, let it air dry, and be confident that it is virus-free.
This is the ingredient you’re probably most familiar with and one that’s found in an abundance of household cleaning products. Its more common name is bleach. Like ethanol, it works by destroying the protein and RNA structure of the coronavirus. The higher the concentration of bleach in a household cleaner, the faster it works.
The CDC recommends making your own bleach solution to disinfect surfaces. Mix 1/3 cup of bleach with a gallon of water. This is just enough bleach to kill the virus within one minute of contact time, but not enough to present a serious danger to the user.
Quaternary ammonia is another common ingredient in household and commercial cleaning products. It works by disrupting the lipid layer that protects the viral particle, which makes the virus unable to “stick” and infect its hosts. You may see quaternary ammonia listed as “quat” or “QAC” on some products.
Never use quaternary ammonia and bleach-based cleaners together; they can combine to form a gas that causes severe respiratory distress.
There are so many household cleaners out there, but they do not all disinfect and kill coronaviruses. Keep your family safe by shopping for and using cleaners that contain one of the three chemicals listed above.