Coronavirus and cleaning: Experts reveal best methods to reduce risk

Mar 22, 2020
Now more than ever, it's important to keep up good cleaning practices around the home. Source: Getty.

As the country continues to tackle the spread of coronavirus, with Australia’s confirmed cases of Covid-19 surpassing 1,000 over the weekend, officials are urging people to take extra care when it comes to socialising and practicing good hygiene.

From washing your hands regularly to avoiding busy public spaces, the government has issued recommendations for keeping safe during the spread of the virus, which is affecting countries all over the world. However, with more and more people being urged to stay at home to prevent transmission, what measures should you be taking around the house to reduce risks?

Some of the country’s leading experts in virology, immunity and epidemiology have answered a series of questions about good cleaning practices, via the Australian Science Media Centre, including what products to use and which areas of the home to focus on.

What are good household cleaning products for surfaces?

Dr Stuart Tangye, Head of the Immunology & Immunodeficiency Lab at the Garvan Institute of Medical research, said people should look for alcohol-based hand sanitisers that contain at least 60 per cent alcohol/ethanol.

When it comes to cleaning surfaces effectively, he added: “Regular bath soap is great. Any common cleaning products that contain bleach.”

While epidemiologist Associate Professor Hassan Vally, from La Trobe University, said that steam cleaners can also be used, due to the fact that heat kills pretty much all bacteria and viruses.

What’s a good cleaning routine?

Dr Sacha Stelzer-Braid, a leading virology scientist from the University of New South Wales, outlined her recommendations for a good home cleaning routine which includes regularly wiping surfaces that are frequently touched, such as door handles, phones and television remotes.

Here are Stelzer-Braid’s recommendations, including tips for those who live with someone who has contracted the virus.

  • Wipe high touch surfaces often
  • Bathrooms used by an infected person should be cleaned with soap and water and then decontaminated with an agent such as diluted bleach if it is appropriate for the surface. If using bleach, make sure the area is well ventilated and wear gloves and eye protection
  • Wear gloves when cleaning and dispose of immediately after
  • Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after contact with someone who is sick
  • Always close the toilet lid when flushing as SARS-CoV-2 can be found in faeces
  • Keep the house well ventilated so that fresh air can circulate and the virus/germs can be flushed out
  • Dispose of used tissues in a bin with a closed lid. Take out to the garbage regularly (wearing gloves)
  • Handle bedding and clothing of an infected person with gloves and wash in regular laundry liquid, on a hot wash if possible. Dry in the sun
  • Keep utensils and plates used by an infected person separate and wash often (dishwasher is best but using detergent and hot water would also work)
  • Limit visitors to the infected person, use phone communication instead

Is it true this virus doesn’t like hot temperatures?

“Some of these assumptions are based on previous studies conducted on different coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV where it has been shown that the virus remained viable for up to 5 days at around room temperature (23-15C) –  the temperature we may be exposed to in an air conditioned room,” said Dr Clovis Palmer from the Burnet Institute.

“It is important not to over-speculate because SARS-CoV-2 ( the virus that causes COVID-19 disease) is genetically different from other SARS coronaviruses, so it is likely to behave differently.”

Does cooking food, handled by someone with coronavirus, kill the virus?

Tangye added: “It probably would but I am not sure exactly what temperatures would be needed to kill coronavirus. A lot of equipment in places like hospitals would be sterilised by high heat – this is done to kill of bacteria and viruses. So again it all depends on what temperatures people are referring to.”

While Palmer added: “The virus that causes COVID-19 disease can survive on plastic, metal, wood, cardboard etc. The length of time the virus remains viable varies significantly between surfaces.

“Food should be cooked thoroughly, and as for vegetables, on the side of caution perhaps steaming briefly wouldn’t hurt for now – but there is no specific recommendations regarding this.”

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