Pet Peeve about Pandemic Cleaning

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I am writing regarding a personal pet peeve about pandemic cleaning. More specifically about products and how they are advertised. I work in the senior living space of health care – and have for 30 years now. In that time, I’ve overseen many different departmental operations – I am sort of an operational jack-of-all-trades. My latest venture: revamp the approach to environmental cleaning. So, this article comes from a place where I have some depth of knowledge, and may be my first article that is not expressly about special needs.

Cleaning products
Cleaning products are flying off shelves during the pandemic

Cleaning products are flying off of store shelves as fast as they are stocked. Empty shelves are the norm. Interestingly, all of the ‘green’ products still remain. For this pandemic, people want chemicals, and lots of them.

I cannot tell you how many solicitations I’ve received from various companies about miracle cleaning products. Ones that kill 99.9% of germs. My favorite are those who say they are safe enough to spray on clothing to kill “microorganisms.” Major retail chains advertising that each night they sanitize. If you’re as nervous as I am of my special needs kiddos catching this virus, you may be tempted to purchase that miracle product. I am here to say, resist the temptation.

First and foremost, you can’t clean COVID-19 away.

If it were only that simple! Now, environmental surfaces, particularly those that are touched by many hands, are important to clean often. Think about the keypad at the grocery store where you swipe your credit card. High touch. Lots of hands. Tons of germs. If you were to touch your face after that keypad, you very well could contract a cold, flu, or yes, COVID-19. This is one reason masks are helpful – they remind us not to touch our faces. It’s also why hand washing is THE most important strategy of all (or using hand sanitizer in between washes).

Spraying a disinfectant is only helpful if surfaces have been cleaned first

Second, cleaning needs to precede disinfection

Where you see people spraying disinfectant, I am here to say it’s only effective if surfaces have been cleaned first. By cleaning I am referring to the physical action of wiping to remove gross soils and invisible (to the naked eye) germs. This needs to happen for that spray to actually disinfect.

I saw a recent ad for a major hotel chain, and it showed those cool electrostatic guns spraying down hotel surfaces. It sure does look cool – like they are winning the war against COVID-19. To be honest, I’d be more impressed if that same chain came out and said they would reduce the number of rooms housekeepers had to clean in a shift, as to focus on proper cleaning of all environmental surfaces. But, that doesn’t make for a sexy ad, does it?

At the end of the day, you can’t get around the elbow grease part of cleaning.

Labels matter

I love disinfectant wipes. They are a convenient way to wipe down surfaces. And, heck, they kill 99.9% of germs in just 15 seconds, right?

Well, not exactly. Yes, even with cleaning products you need to read the fine print. Oftentimes, that 99.9% claim is about bacteria. So, these are great in the kitchen after you’ve just cut up some raw chicken, but they won’t necessarily do squat against viruses. Or, if they do have a viral claim, you’ve got to keep the surface wet for 4 minutes or longer to be effective. This is why reading labels is so very important.

Contact Time

This brings me to contact time. Contact time refers to how long a surface must remain wet (or in contact) with a chemical in order to effectively kill bacteria, viruses or fungi. This can be found on the back of the label, and it’s an important way to know whether you’ve chosen the right product for the job you’re trying to do.

Sanitize Soft Surfaces

This has been my biggest pet peeve of all, companies making claims that they can sanitize items like clothing or furniture. The reality is, I have not found a product out there that has a verified kill claim for viruses on soft surfaces. There are some products that can make a claim against killing ‘odor-causing bacteria.’ So, while I am all about making things smell as good as they look, don’t get a false sense of security that your couch has been rid of COVID-19 (or any other virus).

Can’t find any products right now?

Perhaps the shelves at the store are empty, or you’ve read the labels on what you have at home, and it is not as effective as you thought. Use a bleach solution that is one part bleach to 10 parts water. Simple and effective.


Infection control cleaning has never been more front-and-center than today, during this COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to understand that there are no short-cuts to cleaning—the physical wipe down of surfaces. This, coupled with understanding products by reading labels, will help you know how to properly disinfect.

If you’d like this material, along with tips for safely cleaning with bleach and a high-touch cleaning checklist – download a copy of our printables.

Printable (no cost) Social Stories: Washing hands, social distancing, cough etiquette, and wearing a mask.

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One comment

  1. My older Daughter is a nurse so I’ve gotten the lowdown on infection control. I do like the wipes for the kitchen and the bathroom. But bleach water and good old fashioned soap plus elbow grease work wonders.

    The thing about the hotels made me think of the ring of paper across the toilet seat in some places I’ve stayed…”Sanitized for your protection “😂😂

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