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How to Disinfect Without Harming Your Stuff (or Yourself)

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Coronavirus Cleaning

Proper hand washing, cleaning, and disinfecting techniques should be common sense, and we should have been using them long before a coronavirus outbreak. That said, when a pandemic sweeps the world, cleaning and disinfecting practices come into the spotlight — and can also make it harder to find disinfecting products on store shelves. We've researched the best cleaning and disinfecting practices recommended by experts to stay clean, disinfected, and healthy even during a pandemic.

Related: 14 Creative Alternatives to Household Products in Short Supply — and 4 to Skip

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Wash Your Hands Thoroughly and Often

This is a key way to disinfect and protect yourself from getting sick, and protect others from your germs. You should wash your hands before, during, and after meal prep, after touching surfaces others have touched, before and after caring for someone who is sick or wounded, before and after caring for animals, after you cough, sneeze, blow your nose, and after you use the bathroom. Proper hand washing is common sense, but for a refresher, the experts recommend: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry. Make sure you use warm running water, scrubbing the backs of your hands, between fingers, and under nails for at least 20 seconds (or the equivalent of singing "Happy Birthday" two times through).

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Use Hand Sanitizer in a Pinch

Hand sanitizer is not the same as washing hands with soap and water because it doesn't have the cleaning power to get rid of all types of germs. Hand sanitizer should be used only if you don't have immediate access to soap and water. When you return home, washing your hands should be the first thing you do even if you used hand sanitizer while out. When you do use hand sanitizer, make sure what you are using has at least 60% alcohol. Anything less won't be effective.

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Clean With an EPA-Approved Disinfectant

The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a comprehensive, searchable list of which disinfectants are useful. You can check the household cleaneryou plan to use against COVID-19 on the so-called "List N" by entering the first two sets of an EPA registration number found on the product label. If they're on the list, you can use them safely.

Related: 20 Cleaning Products That Are a Complete Waste of Money

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Follow the Directions

Once you have identified an EPA-approved disinfectant, it is important to follow the cleaning instructions on the bottle precisely. If it says to wet a surface and let it sit for five minutes, that is actually how long it takes to disinfect.

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Wear Disposable Gloves for the Right Reason

If you're using disposable gloves without knowing how to wear and remove them properly, you could be doing more harm than good. Experts do not recommend wearing disposable gloves out in public; since germs will get on a pair of gloves the same way they get on hands, the important thing is simply not to touch your face, whether it's until the gloves are off or your hands are washed and it is safe. The CDC advises wearing disposable gloves while cleaning and disinfecting your home and belongings; but remove them immediately when done, and wash your hands well as soon as you dispose of them.

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Make Your Own Bleach Solution

Cleaning solutions and wipes are in high demand, expensive, and in general suddenly not available. It is possible to make your own, using household bleach that isn't expired to make your own solution. CDC instructions are to use 5 tablespoons (or 1/3 cup) of household bleach to 1 gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach to 1 quart of water. This solution should be left on appropriate surfaces for one minute to disinfect properly. When using bleach to clean, make sure you have good ventilation.

Related: Do Diluted Detergents, Soaps, and Shampoos Still Work?

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Don't Mix Bleach With Other Chemicals

When making your own bleach solution, never mix it with other cleaning products, especially ammonia. Mixing bleach — or any cleaning solutions, for that matter — can cause harmful fumes and reactions.

Related: 25 Spring Cleaning Mistakes You Keep Making Every Year

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Use Alcohol to Clean

Check your medicine cabinet. If you have rubbing alcohol that is 70% or higher, it can be used as a cleaning solution. Put it in a spray bottle for easier use or put some on a cloth and wipe down surfaces.

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Disinfect These Often-Touched Surfaces Daily

While you don't have to clean and disinfect the whole house daily, there are some items that do warrant more frequent cleaning and disinfecting than others. According to the CDC, a daily cleaning and disinfecting is smart for: desks, doorknobs, hard-backed chairs, handles, keyboards, light switches, phones, remote controls, sinks, tables, tablets, toilets, and touchscreens.

Related: 25 Germ Magnets That Need Cleaning Now

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Wipe Down Electronics

Don't dunk electronics into soapy water to clean and disinfect them. Apple recommends using a 70% alcohol wipe or a Clorox wipe to gently clean the hard surfaces of an electronic device, including the screen and keyboard. You should be careful not to get disinfecting product or moisture inside any openings. Bleach is not approved for cleaning these devices, and no moisture should be used on soft surfaces such as a leather case.

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Launder and Clean Fabric Items

When it comes to soft surfaces in a home such as curtains, carpet, upholstery, bedding, and clothes, it is recommended that you wash as much as you can in the washing machine. Use the warmest water temperature recommended for your fabric and dry the item completely, preferably in the dryer. Do not shake out dirty laundry, and be sure you are disinfecting laundry baskets frequently as suggested for the surface type. For carpet and upholstery that you cannot put in a washing machine, it is recommended that you use warm soapy water or an approved cleaner for that specific item.

Related: Are You Making These Laundry Mistakes?

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Don't Be Afraid to Accept Packages

For life to go on, you do eventually need to get supplies — and you should not be afraid to accept packages, especially if it's traveled far and spent a long time in transit, the CDC says. (The World Health Organization agrees.) To be safe especially with packages that arrive more quickly, either open them outside, throw away the packaging, and wash your hands immediately, or sanitize the packages, bring them inside to a hard surface, and wipe everything down as you unwrap. Of course, you'll want to throw away the packaging and wash your hands.

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Shop Safely

If you need to leave the house to shop, maintain a safe distance from other shoppers and wear a cloth mask per CDC recommendations. Once home, wash your hands, empty your groceries, and let them sit in the pantry for a few hours to decrease any virus stuck on the packaging — again, this should be rare anyway. If you do plan to cook immediately, you can always wipe down packaging with an EPA-approved disinfectant as long as the disinfectant doesn't touch your food.

Related: These Grocery Stores Have Special Hours for Seniors and Other At-Risk Shoppers

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Learn How to Handle Carryout Food

Carry-out food has been deemed safe and actually encouraged during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. How is that possible, if the person making your food could be a carrier with the virus and they don't know it? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states very simply that there is no evidence COVID-19 is a food-borne illness

https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

. It is a respiratory illness, and not transmitted through food or food packaging, so eating carry-out food should be safe. You should practice social distancing when getting the food, though, and wash your hands when you get home, empty the food onto a plate and throw away the containers it came in, and wash your hands again before you eat.

Related: 14 Retailers and Restaurants Offering Curbside Pickup

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Do the Laundry of a Sick Person Safely

It is okay to wash a sick person's laundry with your own, the CDC says. Be sure to wear disposable gloves when handling a sick person's laundry, dispose of the gloves right away, and wash your hands. Be sure to disinfect the laundry basket used to transport the sick person's laundry.

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Clean Surfaces in the Sick Area Less

To minimize exposure to an illness, you should clean up sick areas only when the need arises. For example, soiled sheets from the area will need cleaning — but it's not recommended that you clean them daily unless they become soiled. The area's bathroom and hard surfaces should be cleaned as little as possible, so you don't expose yourself. If the sick person feels up to it, they should be wiping down the surfaces in the sick area themselves. If there is no choice but to share a bathroom with a sick person, the sick person should wipe down the bathroom themselves after every use to minimize exposing others using it.