Soap and Water
Just the friction from scrubbing with soap (any kind of soap) and water can break the coronavirus’s protective envelope. “Scrub like you’ve got sticky stuff on the surface and you really need to get it off,” says Richard Sachleben, an organic chemist and a member of the American Chemical Society. Discard the towel or leave it in a bowl of soapy water for a while to destroy any virus particles that may have survived.
Using antibacterial soap won’t give you added protection against the coronavirus because it kills bacteria, not viruses. You can still use it as long as you scrub.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a diluted bleach solution (⅓ cup bleach per 1 gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per 1 quart of water) for virus disinfection. Wear gloves while using bleach, and never mix it with ammonia—or anything, in fact—except water. (The only exception is when doing laundry with detergent.) Once mixed, don’t keep the solution for longer than a day because the bleach will lose potency and can degrade certain plastic containers.
“Always clean the surface with water and detergent first, since many materials can react with bleach and deactivate it,” Sachleben says. “Dry the surface, then apply the bleach solution and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before wiping it off.”
Bleach can corrode metal over time, so Sachleben recommends that people not get into the habit of cleaning their faucets and stainless steel products with it. Because bleach is harsh for many countertops as well, you should rinse surfaces with water after disinfecting to prevent discoloration or damage to the surface.
If you can’t find liquid bleach, you can use bleach tablets instead. You may have seen Evolve bleach tablets, which dissolve in water, at Walmart or on Amazon. Just follow the dilution instructions on the packaging (1 tablet is equal to ½ cup liquid bleach). A label on the bottle states the product is not a disinfectant, but chemically, it’s the same as liquid bleach. A company spokesperson at Custom Bottling & Packaging, which acquired Evolve three years ago, says the company hasn’t had the time or resources to put their product through the Environmental Protection Agency’s registration process that would allow them to make disinfecting and sanitizing claims. As of this update, Evolve is not experiencing any shortages and is supplying hospitals, research centers, and correctional facilities.
Alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol are effective against the coronavirus on hard surfaces. First, clean the surface with water and detergent. Apply the alcohol solution (do not dilute it) and let it sit on the surface for at least 30 seconds to disinfect. Alcohol is generally safe for all surfaces but can discolor some plastics, Sachleben says.
According to the CDC, household (3 percent) hydrogen peroxide is effective in deactivating rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, within 6 to 8 minutes of exposure. Rhinovirus is more difficult to destroy than coronaviruses, so hydrogen peroxide should be able to break down the coronavirus in less time. Pour it undiluted into a spray bottle and spray it on the surface to be cleaned, but let it sit on the surface for at least 1 minute.
Hydrogen peroxide is not corrosive, so it’s okay to use it on metal surfaces. But similar to bleach, it can discolor fabrics if you accidentally get it on your clothes. “It’s great for getting into hard-to-reach crevices,” Sachleben says. “You can pour it on the area, and you don’t have to wipe it off because it essentially decomposes into oxygen and water.”