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Sanitizing, Disinfecting, Cleaning; Are You Doing It Correctly?

We have all heard how important it is to sanitize to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, but are you doing it right? If you have been spraying your favorite commercial product on kitchen counters with one hand and wiping with the other, you probably are not disinfecting. You are just cleaning. While this is a good thing you must do a two step process to effectively disinfect. What’s the difference?

Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection. Cleaning works by using soap (detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. You need to clean before disinfecting.

How you clean is just as important. Wiping down surfaces quickly is better than nothing, but during times like this, you need to really clean. Scrub like there is a sticky substance that needs to be removed. Put some elbow grease into it.

Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces after cleaning to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Here are some guidelines to follow when using these products.

First and foremost, plain old soap and water is your best friend. Proper hand washing is the best defense against the spread of germs. Wash your hands often and rub them together for a minimum of 20 seconds before rinsing. Use a paper towel to dry your hands and then turn off the faucet. Antibacterial soap will not give added protection. They are designed to kill bacteria, not viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on proper hand washing at http://bit.ly/HandWash1.

Start by cleaning hard surfaces. Wipe off countertops, faucets, doorknobs, telephones, electronics, tabletops, chair backs, light switches, handles, sinks and toilets – anything you come in contact with. While it may be impossible to clean and disinfect every surface you come in contact with, you will be minimizing the spread of Covid-19. Make a practice of this every day.

If you use kitchen towels for cleaning, they should be washed frequently in hot water. Make a point to wash them especially after cleaning.

To disinfect, you must have a product that does that job. While that sounds silly, not all cleaning products disinfect. Some are really great at just making your home smell good. Read the label instructions to see if they are designed for disinfecting.

Many times, consumers will spray the product on and then wipe off. Disinfecting? Not necessarily. Again read and follow the instructions for disinfecting on the product label. Many products state you must leave the solution on the surface for a certain length of time before wiping. It could be anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes before wiping. All products work differently so you must follow the instructions.

Do not wipe the surface after disinfecting. Some products recommend you allow the surface to dry completely without wiping down. Disinfectant wipes are an example. To use them properly, wipe down surfaces and then throw the sheet away.

What about liquid disinfectants? Many of these products are designed to disinfect if you do not dilute them. Read and follow the instructions on the product label. Most are already diluted and should be used full strength.

Finding disinfecting products in the store right now is almost impossible. You can make your own disinfectant using household bleach solution. To prepare a bleach solution use 5 tablespoons or 1/3 cup of bleach to one gallon water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. Bleach solution loses its effectiveness after 24 hours. Therefore, you will need to make a new batch every day. Consider making small amounts and discarding the rest when you are finished. Remember, if you are using a spray bottle to store bleach solution in, label the bottle so everyone knows what it is. Never, ever mix it with ammonia or other cleaners.

Wear disposable gloves when disinfecting to protect your hands. Many of these products are abrasive to skin. Once you are finished through the gloves away. If using reusable gloves, be sure to disinfect them when you are finished. Also wash your hands properly after disinfecting surfaces.

Isopropyl alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol are effective against the coronavirus on hard surfaces. As with any other disinfectant, you will need to clean the surface with soap and water. Then apply the alcohol solution, full strength, and let it sit for at least 30 seconds to disinfect. Alcohol is considered safe for most surfaces.

Hydrogen Peroxide is an effective disinfectant. According to the CDC, 3 percent hydrogen peroxide is effective in deactivating rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold. Pour it undiluted into a spray bottle (labeled) and spray it on the surface to be cleaned. You will need to let it sit for at least 1 minute before wiping down.

Hydrogen Peroxide is not abrasive and can be used on metal surfaces. Bleach is abrasive and can damage metal surfaces. Hydrogen peroxide will discolor fabrics, just like bleach, so use it carefully.

Vinegar is not recommended as a disinfectant. Contrary to what you may see on social media, vinegar is not effective in killing germs.

Do not mix cleaning chemicals! Cleaning products can be toxic especially when used improperly. Again, be sure to label any containers you are using and store them out of the reach of young children.

Cleaning and disinfecting are good practices anytime and is something you need to do on a regular basis. No one knows how long the coronavirus will stick around. Do your part at home by protecting yourself and your family. Clean and disinfect daily. For more information on Covid-19 and protecting yourself, check out the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture at www.uaex.edu/covid-19 to find research based information.

Recipe of the Week

Most people are having to learn to cook from their pantry. Skillet meals are a great way to prepare a tasty meal using ingredients you have on hand. Use spices and herbs you have on hand for different flavors! Be creative!

Spanish Macaroni
½ cup onion, chopped
½ green pepper, chopped
1 ½ cups water
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (15 oz.) can tomatoes
2 (15 oz.) cans pinto or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 ½ cups macaroni (uncooked)

In a large skillet, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon water on medium heat until translucent. Add green pepper and cook another 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except macaroni, and cook until vegetables are tender. Stir macaroni into mixture and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until macaroni is tender, 10-15 minutes, adding additional water as needed.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: You may add browned ground beef. Can’t find ground beef at the grocery store? Use ground turkey instead or chop up sirloin and brown with the onion before adding other ingredients.

Information for this article was adapted from several sites including – Center for Disease Control (CDC)-“Cleaning and Disinfection for Households”, USDA United States Department of Agriculture-“Clean THEN Sanitize: A One-Two Punch to Stop Foodborne Illness in the Kitchen”, Partnership for Food Safety Education at Fight_BAC, Consumer Reports – “These Common Household Products Can Destroy the Novel Coronavirus”, Rutgers-“The Best Way to Kill Coronavirus in Your Home”, and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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