Germaphobes and introverts might’ve looked like they were better prepared than the rest of us when this whole Coronavirus situation kicked off earlier this year. Now, though, as Malta settles into the second month of spending most of our time indoors disinfecting anything and anyone coming from the outside, it’s time to revisit the vital basics.
Cleaning and taking care of our homes has taken a whole new meaning in these COVID-dominated times, but as some resort to popular disinfectants, it’s important to remember that these only kill bacteria, and are completely ineffective when it comes to viruses. And that’s where two very useful things come in: alcohol for your hands or body, and bleach for every other surface.
The bottom line is household bleach is the only really effective product if you want to kill viruses at home… but it’s also something that needs to be used with caution.
To make sure the whole island is properly equipped with the dos and donts (and whys and hows) of using bleach in their homes, we’ve decided to bring you a fool-proof guide to it all.
Before we kick off, though, it’s important to note that when we say household bleach, this shouldn’t be confused with hydrogen peroxide, the oxidising bleach used for laundry.
OK, first things first. Why is bleach the go-to choice?
It can all be boiled down to two slightly complex-looking words: sodium hypochlorite.
This is a solid white powder that’s more commonly used dissolved in water, but solutions of sodium hypochlorite are commonly referred to as… you guessed it, bleach!
Referred to as that because it’s the common and active ingredient in household bleaches, sodium hypochlorite is a strong oxidising agent. It’s used as a disinfecting agent since it’s broadly effective against viruses. And yes, that also includes the influenza virus.
Diluted household bleach disinfects within 10 to 60 minutes of contact time, and is widely available at a low cost.
In other words, bleach is the go-to disinfectent because it kills bad things effectively and efficiently.
Following so far?
But isn’t bleach, like, dangerous?
Well, yes, it could be. Very much so. Because it’s so effective against viruses, it could also end up doing some serious harm to good things too, like your favourite tabletop… or your skin.
It’s part and parcel of what makes bleach bleach, but it also means that, if not prepared and handled carefully, it could be very hazardous to your skin and eyes. It can also corrode many household surfaces.
In other words, bleach isn’t going to stop being effective at doing what it does best (which is practically dissolve things) just because you decide not to use it properly.
So how do I make sure I don’t end up causing more harm than good?
Well, the good thing is that making proper use of bleach is as important as it is easy. Let’s start with the basics; actually storing it.
Undiluted bleach emits a toxic gas when exposed to sunlight, so you need to store it in a cool, shaded place, and out of the reach of children.
Also, sodium hypochlorite decomposes with time, so to ensure its effectiveness, purchase recently-produced bleach and avoid over-stocking.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that, in order to use bleach, you always need to properly dilute it in water. Every 20ml of bleach must be diluted in 1 litre of water. So literally 1 part bleach to 50 parts of water. Making bleach usage great value-for-money.
Improper use, including deviation from the recommended dilations (that is, making the mixture either stronger or weaker), may drastically reduce its effectiveness for disinfection, or even cause injury.
Bleach is highly concentrated and is not meant to be used undiluted. And since it’s strong enough to still be effective even in a diluted state, you’ll likely end up doing more damage than good if you were to not dilute it.
At the same time, use cold water – hot water decomposes that good old sodium hypochlorite and can render it pretty much useless. Also, mix and use bleach solutions in well-ventilated areas, and prepare the (clearly labelled) diluted solution fresh and a maximum of 24 hours in advance before needing to use it; time is not a diluted chemical mix’s best friend.
Organic materials inactivate bleach, so clean surfaces off any before you disinfect them.
You’re targeting any potential viruses or bacteria on the table top, not the breadcumbs just chilling on it.
Do not use bleach together with other household detergents, since this will not only reduce its effectiveness, but could even cause dangerous chemical reactions.
And make sure you’re wearing gloves when preparing the mixture.
And hey, a pair of goggles or mask to protect your eyes from any rogue splashes won’t hurt either!
If bleach gets into the eyes, you need to immediately rinse with water for at least 15 minutes and consult a physician. So better safe than sorry.
Cool… but what does all this have to do with COVID-19?
The exact survival time of COVID-19 (that’s the one that’s currently causing all this hassle) in the environment and on every single surface is currently not precisely known.
However, the survival time of MRSA at an average room temperature of 20°C could be higher than 48 hours, with that of SARS being estimated to be several days. Since these are two of the most similar types of Coronavirus that we know of, it’s safe to assume COVID-19 won’t be disappearing off any surface in a matter of minutes.
Measures which can help mitigate all this include routinely cleaning frequently-used surfaces and objects (that’s anything from doorknobs and toilets to keyboards and tablets), washing laundry at the warmest indicated temperature (according to the detergent manufacturer’s instructions), and minimal sharing of objects (from glasses and cutlery to towels and bed linen).
That’s where bleach comes in, disinfecting your surfaces and making sure viruses don’t have such a thriving environment to spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) have provided a whole lot of resources to assist everyone from healthcare facilities to households in these trying times, and it’s all about taking the necessary precautions.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the application of any disinfectants you use, and make sure there’s always enough proper ventilation when you do so. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date, and again, never mix household bleach with ammonia or another cleaner.
This, paired with a couple of precautions that you can take when you enter your home, will make sure your house is as disinfected as possible.
Remember: unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted… but you also need to be careful and cautious.
Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, discarding them after each cleaning session. If you’re using reusable gloves, only use them for the purpose of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
And by the way; no, spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill COVID-19. If anything, that can be very harmful to your clothes, eyes and mouth. So yeah, no.
At the end of the day, this is about making sure that you’re taking as many precautions as possible to help flatten the curve and disinfect your surfaces the right way… and isn’t that we should be all about?