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Protecting Against Coronavirus: Cleaning Versus Disinfecting

Alexandra Hayes

Senior Director of Communications, Alliance for Consumer Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we clean. We may be using different products or cleaning more often to help stop the spread of the virus. As we place a greater emphasis on cleaning, it’s important to note that a cleaning product does not work in every situation. For example, you wouldn’t use a toilet bowl cleaner to wipe spaghetti sauce off your kitchen counter. Additionally, it’s important to both clean and disinfect. The directions on a product’s label will explain its purpose and how to use it safely and effectively.   

How to clean

Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same and should not be used interchangeably. Cleaning removes dirt and the top layer of germs that may be living on surfaces. This makes homes look nice and reduces the risk of spreading bacteria and viruses; however, it does not necessarily kill them.  

When done properly, disinfecting kills 99.9 percent of harmful bacteria and viruses that live on high-touch areas and commonly touched objects, such as bathroom and kitchen counters, door handles, light switches, the TV remote, and cell phones.

Different products require different contact times to effectively disinfect. The directions on the label will explain how long the surface needs to remain wet, which can vary between 30 seconds and 10 minutes, so the active ingredients have time to work.


The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is easy to kill because it has an outer layer of fat. When you use a disinfectant, the fat dissolves and the virus breaks down.

To protect against COVID-19, use a disinfectant on the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-Cov-2. These products are registered with the EPA and have demonstrated efficacy against another coronavirus or a harder-to-kill virus.   

Wiping down counters, doorknobs, and light switches has become a common practice in many homes since the coronavirus outbreak. Equally important is making sure you are using the right product for the job and following the directions on the label. Using an EPA-registered disinfectant will help protect your family and home against COVID-19.

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