All The Science-Backed Ways To Decontaminate Your House Right Now


Each day, the coronavirus finds another way to upend our lives, creating a new normal that we’re still adapting to. As we wrap our heads around life as it is now, so much of our mental, physical, and emotional energy is spent doing all we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. And of course, regular hand washing and social distancing are still the top-tier priorities.

But, when it gets down to the nitty gritty of staying safe and healthy, most of us are struggling to parse through all the confusing, conflicting information on the best ways to keep COVID-19 out of our homes and away from our families. What do we do with packages? And groceries? And deliveries? So, we thought we’d save you the hassle of scouring the entirety of the internet for answers.

Here’s a rundown of the most up-to-date info and best practices as prescribed by the CDC and the medical community for disinfecting our homes.

How To Decontaminate Our Homes:

This respiratory disease passes from an infected person through “respiratory droplets” that are expelled when they cough, sneeze, or talk (hence the need for masks). But, a person can be infected and not show symptoms, meaning they can inadvertently pass on the virus even if they don’t feel sick, which is why we’re all #stayinghome.

But, here’s some good news; according to the CDC, “transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented.” This means that no known contamination has occurred from surfaces AND no known cases of COVID-19 have been food-borne (more on that later).

As such, the recommendations from the CDC are intended for those with ill people in quarantine at home, making these the highest level precautions suggested. If your household is COVID-19-free (thank goodness!), use these as general guidelines to ensure you and your family continue to stay safe.

  1. Clean, Then Disinfect: Cleaning with soap and water removes germs, but doesn’t kill them; disinfecting kills them, but only if the surface has been cleaned first. So it’s best to clean, and then disinfect your surfaces. We know— this is confusing and an annoying amount of steps. Also, who knew that “cleaning” and “disinfecting” mean different things?

  2. Wear Gloves: Wear disposable gloves while cleaning and disinfecting, and toss them when you’re done. If you have reusable gloves, designate a pair for disinfecting and use others for general cleaning.

  3. Focus On High-Touch Surfaces: Thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces your family touch all the time, like tables and desks, chair backs, countertops, doorknobs, light switches, phones, screens, remotes, handles, faucet knobs, and toilets.

  4. Use The Heavy-Duty Stuff: For cleaning and disinfecting, the CDC recommends using EPA-registered disinfectants—household brands you probably already have, like Lysol or… Lysol? Is there another disinfectant?

  5. When In Doubt, Use Bleach: If you don’t have a disinfecting cleaner but you have bleach, you can make a bleach solution using 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water, or for smaller quantities, 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water?

  6. Make Your Own Sanitizer: You can also make a sanitizing solution of 60% Isopropyl Alcohol and aloe vera gel.

How To Decontaminate Surfaces:

A controlled study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, Montana, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine determined that SARS-CoV-2 lasts seventy-two hours on plastic, forty-eight hours on stainless steel, twenty-four hours on cardboard, and four hours on copper.

  • Porous Surfaces: For porous surfaces like carpets, rugs, and drapes, wash them like you normally would but use the warmest water setting possible. Or use an EPA-approved disinfectant that works on these surfaces.

  • Non-Porous Surfaces: For surfaces like your tables and countertops, wash with soap and water followed with a disinfectant. Wipe your electronics down with disinfectant wipes or a paper towel soaked with a bleach or alcohol mixture.

Do We Need To Decontaminate Our Clothes?

“The average person should not worry about their clothing,” according to Sarah Fortune, a professor and chair of the Department of Immunology And Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. She adds, “If you are a health-care provider and potentially subject to a high density of virus, the answer is different. But for most of us, it is all about our hands and face.”

Dr. Juan Dumois agrees. He’s a pediatric infectious-diseases physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, who said, “sneeze particles with virus are going to last a lot longer on a desktop or countertop than on somebody’s clothing.”

Thankfully, our laundry routine doesn’t need to change much. But if you’re still nervous about an infected person brushing by you in the grocery store, you can remove your clothes when you get home and set them aside or in a bag for a few hours to be washed later.

Do We Need to Decontaminate Food After Grocery Shopping?

According to the CDC, the risk of COVID-19 spreading from food products or food handling is “very low.” They’ve stated that “currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,” and they don’t suggest extra precautions when handling food other than washing your hands before touching food if you’ve touched your eyes, nose, mouth, or face.

But we know that, for some of us, that’s just not good enough.

We worry that workers on the supply chain— from source to grocer— could have contaminated the product through transport and stocking. And with SARS-CoV-2 hanging out on cardboard for up to three days, it seems possible (though not probable) to bring the virus home.

To allay these fears, a well-intentioned physician posted a video on YouTube that set the internet on fire with some suggestions he made, which went against FDA approved practices (and common sense) for keeping food safe and stopping the spread of food-borne illness. This video recommended leaving your groceries outside for hours or washing your food in soap and water. Please don’t do these things. I REPEAT, please don’t leave your groceries outside, and don’t wash your food with soap.

He attempted to combine medical procedures for disinfection with the CDC guidelines for washing your hands with warm water and soap. The problem is produce is porous and soap contains chemicals that don’t make the inside of body happy, so eating produce washed in chemicals could lead to other health issues like diarrhea and vomiting— which is literally the last thing we want right now.

Plus, the CDC reports that no cases of COVID-19 have been food-borne. It all makes washing produce in soap and water an unnecessary, probably unhelpful, possibly unhealthy practice.

But he did have some good (and safe) tips, like:

  • Commit to buying a product before putting the item in your cart. You don’t want to needlessly expose yourself to the virus by picking up 8 bottles of olive oil before putting one in your cart.

  • Use clean flowing water— it’s really all you need to wash your produce.

Here are some more practical and sensible suggestions for decontaminating food:

  1. Designate an area for unloading your groceries:

    • This area will be thoroughly disinfected before and after use. Have a “dirty area” where the bags will be put down and a “clean area” to place groceries after disinfecting. For those of us who are counter-space challenged, just put your bags down, put your groceries away one by one as you disinfect them, and disinfect whatever surface held the bags afterward.

    • A note on reusable bags: many stores aren’t allowing outside bags anymore, so you will have to get bags from the store.

  2. Wear gloves, or wash your hands: You can wear gloves while unpacking your groceries, or just wash your hands thoroughly when you’re done.

  3. Produce:

    • If in a sealed plastic bag, wipe down the plastic with a disinfectant wipe, or an alcohol- sanitizer soaked paper towel. Do NOT use bleach on your food.

    • If the produce is loose, rinse it in clean flowing water and dry it with a paper towel before storing it in the fridge.

    • Keep in mind that cooking foods kills the virus, but produce eaten raw should be thoroughly rinsed.

  4. Packaged meat and fish:

    • Meat and fish bought at the butcher-counter should be unwrapped and dropped into a clean container to be put away in the freezer or refrigerator.

    • Pre-packaged meat and fish should be wiped down with a disinfecting wipe and stored.

  5. Non-perishables:

    • Canned goods can be wiped with a disinfectant wipe or sprayed directly with disinfectant.

    • Grains and dried beans can be wiped down with disinfectant wipes or opened and put into containers. A great time to decant some things in your pantry.

  6. Plastic and glass bottles: These sturdier containers can be sprayed directly with disinfectant and wiped down.

  7. Cardboard boxes:

    • Cereal boxes can be sprayed, wiped, or opened and decanted into a clean container, or the plastic pouch wiped down.

    • Ice cream containers should be wiped down.

    • Pizza boxes should be discarded and plastic wrap inside wiped down; same goes with frozen dinners—discard the box and wipe down the plastic before putting it in the freezer

  8. ­­­­­­­Takeout:

    • If you’re worried about the safety of your takeout food, keep in mind that heating food to 133°F (56°C) kills the virus, so cooked foods are safe.

    • If you want to feel better about the whole thing, then reheat your takeout in the microwave. The Candidly microwaving your food until you see steam coming off it.

  9. Grocery Deliveries:

    • If you have a mind to use services like Task Rabbit to shop or a grocery chain to deliver straight to your door, all the better—you get to stay at home, social distance, and have someone else run an errand for you. All wins!

    • You’ll still want to practice contact-free delivery, having them leave the groceries at your front door. Then go through the steps of disinfecting each item before putting them away.

Are these steps excessive? If it keeps you sane and your family safe, then no.

(Article first published by The Candidly.)


Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.

Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.

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Be Well!