The No. 1 Disinfecting Mistake You're Making Right Now

If you're wiping disinfectants away without letting them sit, you're not killing the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone step up their cleaning habits. Since the coronavirus can live on a myriad of surfaces for days at a time, many people are disinfecting their homes daily to prevent the spread. However, prevention is only possible if you are correctly disinfecting surfaces to kill the virus. And while you could be making a number of disinfecting mistakes, experts say the main mistake people make when it comes to disinfecting is not leaving the disinfectant on long enough.

"Disinfectants need to sit on the surface for some time to be fully effective," says Matthew Baratta, MPH, vice president of operations at Daimer Industries, which specializes in commercial and residential cleaning. "Simply spraying and wiping it all quickly does not allow the disinfectant to dwell on the surface long enough to be effective"

Jay Woody, MD, chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and co-founder of Legacy ER & Urgent Care, says most medical professionals rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for "cleaning and disinfection protocols," and currently, the CDC recommends cleaning hard and soft surfaces with soap and water, and then disinfecting with a product endorsed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These EPA-approved disinfectants include popular products like Lysol, Clorox, and Windex.

lysol and Clorox cleaners with sponge

Woody says many people will spray a surface and then immediately wipe the disinfectant away with a paper towel to dry the surface. However, this doesn't always allow the disinfectant solution enough time to attack the virus.

"Each EPA-approved disinfectant has their own product directions. It's very important that you read the product descriptions to ensure proper use," Woody says. "The most important tip for disinfecting is to follow the contact time. The contact time is listed on the products directions. The surface should remain wet on the surface the entire time for the product to be effective."

For instance, Woody says bleach is a popular disinfectant that has been proven to kill germs, but the active ingredient within bleach—sodium hypochlorite—needs to "air dry on a surfaces for 10 minutes before wiping it off." In fact, only a few of the EPA-approved disinfectants kill the coronavirus in 30 seconds or less, while more than half of the approved disinfectants take 10 or more minutes to effectively work.

Popular cleaners like Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Clorox Disinfecting Spray both have a contact time of 10 minutes, as well. Since it varies, Baratta and Woody both recommend reading the label on any disinfectant before use to make sure you're effectively killing the coronavirus. And for more product suggestions, try these 9 Disinfectants You Can Actually Get Online Right Now.

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