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The Difference Between Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home And Why Experts Say You Should Still Be Doing Both



Chances are, at this time last year, you were going above and beyond in the hopes of keeping yourself and your loved ones from contracting Covid-19. You were washing your hands for 20 seconds and sanitizing them to the point of dry, scaly skin. You were wearing masks, sometimes two, and staying six feet away from people. And you likely were vigorously cleaning shared surfaces in your home, opening doors with a napkin, as well as spraying and wiping down packages shipped to you. Information about the virus was still new, so it was better safe than sorry.

Now that we know so much more, there are vaccines, the infection and death rates for Covid-19 have dropped and there is a renewed sense of optimism, people are easing up on past efforts. But an internist says not so fast. To not only ward off Covid-19, but also common viral infections like influenza, the common cold, MRSA and the norovirus, cleaning and disinfecting your home is still absolutely necessary. And in case you didn’t know, there is a big, important difference between those two things.

“Cleaning removes dust, debris and dirt from a surface by scrubbing, washing and rinsing. It is essential for overall hygiene and is a helpful first step to maximize the efficacy of disinfectants and sanitizers. It’s important to remember cleaning products alone are not designed to kill germs,” says Dr. Eva Beaulieu, board-certified internal medicine hospitalist and Clorox spokesperson to ESSENCE. “Disinfecting destroys or inactivates both the bacteria and viruses identified on the product’s label on hard, nonporous surfaces. Disinfectants kill a wide range of microorganisms and are designed for high-level decontamination of areas that are more likely to become contaminated and spread disease to others.”

When people were quarantining, the encouraged health measures taken of wearing masks, keeping hands clean and cleaning and disinfecting shared spaces ended up leading to medical experts seeing a decrease in the transmission of those aforementioned illnesses, substantially with influenza and norovirus. Hospitalizations for the flu were one-ninth what they were in the 2011-2012 season. Norovirus outbreaks from August 2020 to March of 2021 were only 77 in comparison to the 965 reported during the same period the year prior. Many who didn’t end up with Covid-19 noted that they haven’t come down with any sickness since the pandemic started.

That being said, now is not the time to throw caution to the wind. Whether in your residence or entering back into the office, keep pathogens at bay. 0%00:1603:12 

“In the home, you should focus on disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. When determining what surfaces need to be disinfected, high-touch surfaces should always be prioritized,” Beaulieu says. “This can include doorknobs, window latches, light switches, tabletops, countertops, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, bathroom toilet and faucet handles. For public spaces, you should take a similar approach and focus on disinfecting frequently touched or high-traffic areas. High-touch surfaces can include surfaces such as desks, doorknobs, keyboards, phones, countertops and restroom sinks and toilets. High-traffic areas are spaces such as restrooms, break rooms, shared workspaces and kitchen areas.”

And as you move back into the outside world in general to enjoy the summer season, keep washing those hands, practicing proper respiratory etiquette (like covering your mouth when you cough), and cleaning or protecting yourself when utilizing shared surfaces. It will go a long way.

“Measures such as hand washing and frequent cleaning/disinfection can help us be proactive in the fight against pathogens and incorporating these new habits at the right place and time are key in maintaining a healthier community,” Beaulieu says. “Germs that can cause illness like flu, norovirus and MRSA can be transmitted via surfaces we all share and prior to COVID-19, lead to outbreaks that can shutter schools and offices and overburden our healthcare system. Now is the time to normalize the behaviors we should have been doing all along such as disinfecting high-touch surfaces, hand hygiene and staying home when you’re sick.”

As norovirus, influenza, MRSA and common cold cases have decreased, and Covid-19 cases are also making their way downward, it’s important we keep up the momentum to ensure we’re all able to enjoy the world around us again, happy and healthy.

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