What household cleaning products to use to kill the coronavirus?
Lena Ciric of the University College of London gives her advice on household cleaning products to use against the coronavirus.
Covid-19 has only been around for a few months, so at this point scientists don’t know much about it. But we learn more every day.
We now know, for example, that it can live on surfaces for up to several days and survive in air for a few hours. We also now know that viral particles are excreted through saliva and coughed up fluids from the lungs, and that the virus can also be excreted through our stool.
It is easy for an infected person to spread the virus particles by coughing, touching other people, or leaving the virus on surfaces. There is no doubt that washing your hands after being in public spaces is essential in reducing the spread of Covid-19. But what should we do in our homes to eliminate it?
Two recent studies looked at how long coronaviruses survive on different surfaces. The research looked at a number of different viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that caused Covid-19. And he found that survival times varied depending on the type of surface.
The virus survived the longest on stainless steel and plastic, while the shortest survival times were on paper and cardboard.
The amount of viral particles during this time decreases, but it is worrying that the particles can last for days rather than hours or minutes on a surface. So how effective are cleaning products already in your cupboards at killing the coronavirus? There is good news in the list below.
Soap and water
Soap and water are your first line of defense in removing the virus from surfaces. The soap interferes with the fat in the virus shell and lifts the virus from surfaces, which is then rinsed off with water.
Of course, you should also wash your hands when you come home from the shops and wash your food as usual.
The active ingredient in bleach – sodium hypochlorite – is very effective in killing the virus. Make sure you let the bleach sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then wipe down the area with a clean cloth.
Bleach works by destroying the protein and what’s known as ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the virus – it’s the substance that sets the pattern for making more virus particles when you’re infected. Make sure to use bleach as directed on the bottle.
Surgical alcohol is primarily alcohol ethanol. Ethanol has been shown to kill coronaviruses in as little as 30 seconds. Like bleach, alcohol destroys the protein and RNA that make up the virus.
Dampen a cloth with clean surgical alcohol and rub it on a surface. It will evaporate and you won’t need to wipe it off.
The active ingredient in surface wipes is an antiseptic, usually benzalkonium chloride. The wipes work by physically killing germs with the pressure you apply when using them, and the germs then attach to the wipe.
Antiseptics work by disrupting fat in pathogen cells, but SARS-CoV-2 does not contain a lot of fat. The wipes also leave a layer of antiseptic on the surface which works to kill germs.
Benzalkonium chloride has been shown to work well on bacteria as well as coronaviruses that infect mice and dogs – but it appears to be less effective against human coronavirus.
A word of warning about hand sanitizers. The main ingredient in hand sanitizers that will kill SARS-CoV-2 is ethanol, the alcohol in surgical alcohol. But its concentration in the disinfectant is very important – it must be more than 60pc or it will not effectively kill the virus.
One thing you can also do is make sure you regularly ventilate the spaces you spend time in. An infected person will produce thousands of tiny droplets, which contain the virus every time they cough.
SARS-CoV-2 can survive in air for up to three hours. So, by opening the window, you can remove and disperse the droplets and reduce the amount of virus in the air, which will reduce the risk of infection for others.
We live in uncertain times, but it is reassuring to know that we have weapons we can use to fight Covid-19 in our homes. The bottom line: Keep washing your hands, use 60-piece hand sanitizer, dust off the bleach, and open a window to let in the spring air.
Through Lena Ciric
Lena Ciric is Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University College London.
Updated March 31, 2020 at 12:55 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that there was no evidence that antiseptics can kill human coronaviruses. This has been updated to clarify that benzalkonium chloride has been shown to be less effective against human coronavirus than against bacteria as well as coronaviruses that infect mice and dogs. This was clarified by the author with reference to the research: “The authors [of the research] concluded that antiseptics were not the most effective agents to use against coronaviruses. “