Many of us understand the basics of home cleaning. We know how to dust the nooks and crannies of our homes. We know how to wipe down a countertop. We know how to wield a broom, a mop, a vacuum—and just about every other cleaning product on the menu. But very few of us could actually call ourselves cleaning experts. We’ve never taken a class on the stuff—we’ve just learned through common sense and observation. We’ve never sought out expert-backed cleaning and disinfecting tips. Because really, why would we?
The truth is, you could navigate most of your life without ever learning what experts, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have to say about cleaning and disinfecting. And for the most part, you’d be fine. But there are moments that demand an above-average understanding of how to clean and disinfect a home—moments when you’re sick, when someone you live with is sick, when seemingly everyone around you is sick. Those germ-ridden times require more than the average cleaning product arsenal. They call for knowledge, precision, and care in equal measure.
There are moments that demand an above-average understanding of how to clean and disinfect a home—moments when you’re sick, when someone you live with is sick, when seemingly everyone around you is sick.
Thankfully, the CDC offers all kinds of resources for people navigating sickness-filled situations and, really, for anyone who wants to go the extra mile in cleaning and disinfecting their home. They’ve made it easy to attain an expert-level education in keeping a healthy home in any circumstance. And they offer pages and pages of information designed to help you help yourself—and everyone else you live with.
Naturally, we’ve taken the liberty of condensing those pages into a quick guide you can use to clean and disinfect your home in a CDC-approved way.
Understand That Cleaning and Disinfecting Aren’t the Same Thing
First things first, you need to know the difference between cleaning and disinfecting—because no, they aren’t the same thing. According to the CDC, cleaning refers to removal of debris, dirt, and other impurities. It doesn’t kill germs—it just removes them, decreasing their numbers and reducing the likelihood of spreading infection.
Disinfecting, on the other hand, refers to killing germs using chemicals. “This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces,” the CDC notes. So you’ll want to clean first and disinfect second to kill whatever germs are leftover after cleaning.
Take the Time to Read the Directions Before Using a Cleaning Product
This one’s straightforward, but: You should always read a cleaning product’s label before using that product. For one thing, the label might tell you to avoid using that product on certain surfaces. Some chemicals are too harsh for specific materials. So by doing your due diligence on the front-end, you might save some of your furniture from being ruined during the cleaning process.
The other reason for this rule? Some cleaning products can hurt you if used improperly. Read the directions on your go-to cleaning products, and you’ll notice that some will ask you to wear gloves or open a window to ensure proper ventilation during use. These rules are in place for your sake, so be sure to follow them—especially if you’re going harder on the whole cleaning/disinfecting thing than usual.
Clean and Disinfect High-Touch Surfaces Every Single Day
Usually, home cleaning is directed toward the dirtiest, dustiest spaces in a home—floors, countertops, corners that always seem to accumulate cobwebs. But when you’re cleaning and disinfecting with sickness in mind, you’ll want to give just as much attention to the high-touch surfaces in your home. Think: doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, toilets, sinks, and anything else you touch a lot. (While you’re at it, you might want to start cleaning and disinfecting your phone, too.)
Use Disposable Gloves Every Time You Clean or Disinfect Something
One thing most of us don’t do when we clean our homes? Wear gloves. But according to the CDC, gloves are an important way to protect yourself (and prevent the spread of germs) during cleaning and disinfecting. They specifically recommend that you wear disposable gloves, throw them away immediately after use, and wash your hands the moment you take them off. (Be sure to wash with soap and water for a full 20 seconds!)
If you decide to wear reusable gloves instead, be sure to dedicate them to this illness specifically. Don’t use them again once everyone in your home is healthy.
Make Sure Your Disinfectants Are at Least 70% Alcohol
According to the CDC, for disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. Just be sure to check the product’s expiration date (and read the product’s label) before using it.
If you’re using a product with bleach in it, be sure to read the directions before use. The chemical could harm you or your furniture if used improperly. If you’re creating your own bleach solution, you should opt for a ratio of 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water, or 4 tablespoons of bleach per quart of water. Never mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleaning product; the only thing bleach should be mixed with is water.
Clean Textiles Using the Warmest Water Possible, and Dry Them Completely
When it comes to textiles—like carpets, rugs, curtains, and clothes—you’ll want to use appropriate cleaning products and then launder them immediately afterward, if possible. Use the warmest water you can, given the material you’re cleaning and your laundry machine’s capabilities. And then dry the item completely.
Be sure to wear gloves the whole time and wash your hands the moment you take them off. And remember to clean and disinfect your hamper as regularly as you’re cleaning and disinfecting everything else.
If You’re Living With Someone Who’s Sick, Consider Cleaning Their Space Only On an As-Needed Basis
This tip may seem counterintuitive—shouldn’t you clean a sick person’s space more?—but it’s designed to keep you as safe and healthy as possible. Once someone is sick, they should remain inside a single bedroom and use a single bathroom, if they can. Others should avoid entering either room as often as possible, and they should wear gloves when handling food, trash, and anything else that needs picking up.
Be sure to designate a lined trash can for this person to further contain the spread of germs, and use gloves when disposing of this trash. And any dishes or non-disposable items this person comes in contact with should be washed with soap and hot water immediately after use.
"Guidance For Cleaning And Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, And Homes". Cdc.Gov, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/pdf/REopening_America_Guidance.pdf.
How To Clean and Disinfect Schools To Help Slow the Spread of Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 26, 2020.
When to Wear Gloves. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 16, 2020.