Q&A: Brian Sansoni on cleaning in the age of COVID-19

Mar 19, 2020

Brian Sansoni is the Senior Vice President at the American Cleaning Institute which is the Washington, D.C.-based association representing the cleaning product supply chain. Brian has worked at ACI for almost 20 years and is its chief spokesperson. The Institute is gathering information on proper hygiene, cleaning, disinfection practices in wake of coronavirus spread and posting it at cleaninginstitute.org.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Good morning everyone and I hope you and yours are safe and staying indoors. We have a very important chat today and an expert on cleaning in this new age of COVID-19. Brian Sansoni  is Senior Vice President at the American Cleaning Institute and has the latest information on best practices for handwashing, counter cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. Let's chat.

The American Cleaning Institute (www.cleaninginstitute.org) appreciates the opportunity to share information on the essential role of cleaning and disinfecting as we combat the spread of coronavirus. We look forward to some great dialogue and discussion today.

The amount of information related to cleaning and the best way to protect against infection is overwhelming. What sources can I trust and can I go to find more information on cleaning and safety tips?

For more tips on cleaning best practices and tips, visit www.cleaninginstitute.org. For specific tips on cleaning to protect against the Coronavirus, please visit www.cleaninginstitute.org/coronavirus. For information about the virus itself and cases in the U.S., please visit www.cdc.gov.

I’m practicing social distancing as much as possible and limiting interaction with others, however, I live in an apartment complex with communal laundry. I’ve held off as long as possible from using the space, but realize this can’t be avoided forever. What’s the best way to use a communal space while protecting myself from possible exposure?

This is a tough one, for those living in urban areas or apartment buildings with shared spaces – social distancing can only be done so long without impacting other hygiene and cleaning aspects of your life such as laundry.

If you have not heard from your property management about how they are adjusting their cleaning routine for communal spaces, now is the time to be empowered to do so. You should also be kept informed if anyone in your building has been exposed to the virus so you can take extra precautions.

Take disinfecting wipes with you when entering a communal space and use them to wipe down surfaces that are frequently touched (doorknobs, washer and dryer doors and buttons). If disinfecting wipes are not available, use a disinfecting spray bottle with paper towels. As an extra precaution, wearing gloves could also be helpful. Just be sure not to touch your face, if you do.

As always, once you return from the communal laundry room – take the time to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

We have purchased and are using way more cleaning products than normal to help keep our family safe and healthy. With my kids at home for the next couple of weeks, what are the best ways I can practice safe storage with these products?

This is a great question. Every parent knows how curious children can be, and how quickly accidents can happen. With our children at home, and more cleaning products in the house than normal, now more than ever is it important to make sure we take the appropriate steps when using and storing cleaning products.

When storing your cleaning products and laundry detergents, have a designated place in your home where these can be stored up and out of sight and reach from young children. If you do not have cabinets, store these products on a shelf in a plastic bin out of sight. When you return home from the store, be sure to store these immediately. Have them bagged separately so that when you return home, they are your priority to put away.

While it might be “trendy” to store these products in clear, glass containers, be sure to store all cleaning products in their original containers. These are designed to be child resistant and the labels have key safety information, including ingredients, should an accident happen. For more tips on safe storage, visit our Packets Up campaign site at www.packetsup.com

I can’t find disinfecting wipes, what’s the best way to clean surfaces when I need to go out?

In the absence of disinfecting wipes, disinfecting spray works equally as well. For hard surfaces, pre-clean any surfaces prior to disinfecting to remove any excess dirt or grime. Once you use a disinfecting product, make sure you let the surface air dry as recommended on the product label. This is where some folks may not be allowing the product to properly disinfect. Depending on the product, you need to let the surface air dry anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes in order to let the germ or virus kill take effect. That’s why reading the label is so important.

Due to the shortage of hand sanitizer available at stores, I've seen links about how to make your own hand sanitizer. Do they work as well as store bought?

We strongly recommend against trying to make your own hand sanitizer at home.

First off, washing with soap and water is the most important action you can take to help prevent the spread of illness and disease. Any kind of soap fits the bill.

Second, hand sanitizers you buy in the stores often contain emollients that can help moisturize and soften the skin. Your homemade recipe could be too strong and potentially damage your skin.

Third, trying to play “Mr. Wizard” at home won’t guarantee that you’ll get the product formulation mix just right.

We’re concerned from a safety standpoint that trying to mix ethyl alcohol or other types of alcohol in some home-made concoction could lead to safety issues – especially if there are young children in the home. When you mix your own, you’re on your own. You don’t have a product label to refer to in case of an emergency.

Stick with washing your hands with soap and water. There are also hand cleansing wipes available if you’re not able to grab some hand sanitizer.

My instinct is this is a bad time to have my usual weekly housecleaning service. My cleaning service says their workers are using masks and gloves and using a commercial-grade disinfectant (KBQ-32) to clean their clients' homes now, but is it okay for them to be going from house to house, touching everything in the house including textiles that can't be wiped down?

During this time, it is, of course, a personal preference in terms of comfort level of personal interactions including cleaning services. I’d re-confirm with your cleaning service that they are changing their rubber gloves in-between their different cleaning jobs.

I have seen ads for wipes that feature essential oils. Are these at all effective on viruses?

Plain old soap and water work very well for cleaning your hands. If soap and water are not handy, consider using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

As far as disinfectants used on surfaces, the EPA list has many cleaners with different ingredients, so the best choice will depend on consumer preference. More information on many of these products can be found on SmartLabel.com

As I washed my hands for 20 seconds and dried my hands on my powder room hand towel, I wondered. This seems to be okay for me who just washed my hands and lives alone, but what about people who share a space? What should we do AFTER we wash our hands, especially when you can't find paper towels? And generally, while I would imagine folks in shared spaces need to be more stringent than someone living alone and not going out, are there general -- but different -- guidelines for tor those who live alone or with other?

Given the spread of the virus, when living with other people who share common spaces, it’s important to not only frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, but also disinfect surfaces.  The CDC guidance is to clean and disinfect as needed. In a home, priority items to clean and disinfect include things like doorknobs, light switches, faucet handles and cell phones. Particular attention should be given to surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. Use different towels and clean them regularly.

If someone in the home is ill, clean and disinfect surfaces they’re in contact with. For dishes, cleaning with dish soap by hand or in a dishwasher will remove most germs. To fully disinfect, one option is to use bleach (following product label instructions). For clothes and sheets, put them in the washer with detergent and then be sure to fully dry on high heat afterward in the dryer. Wash hands after transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer. Another option here is also using bleach or “color-safe bleach.”

I'm considered an essential worker and still required to go into my office. What's the best way to disinfect and protect? Are there certain surfaces I should pay more attention to?

If remote working is not an option for you, there are ways to keep yourself protected as you get to and from work and in the office.

If you take public transportation to get to or from work, keep your distance from others as much as possible – up to 6 feet, and avoid touching surfaces such as handrails, bus poles, etc. Take disinfecting wipes with you to wipe down surfaces that can’t be avoided such as doorknobs. Avoid touching your face, including your eyes, nose and mouth when taking public transportation. If you are able to, and the weather allows, try walking or biking to work.

The most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds each time. When you are in the office, wash them regularly. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, if hand washing is not possible. Cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue away after use to lessen the spread of germs.

What is the best thing to wipe down your granite or marble counters with that is antibacterial? Will bleach or bleach wipes harm those surfaces?

It's important to check the product label to ensure what surfaces you can use the product on. Typically, disinfecting wipes can be effectively and safely used on granite surfaces. With marble, you should check with the recommendations of the marbletop manufacturer to see what type of cleaning product is okay to use. 

I've been to 5 stores over the weekend and had no luck finding disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer, will these products ever be available again? What are companies doing to produce more?

We know that our member company manufacturers of cleaning products and hand sanitizers are working around the clock to meet the increased demand for these products. We know that many retailers are limiting purchases of some of these products so that more people are able to purchase them. We understand consumers' frustration and concern and our members are doing everything they can to get these essential products in their hands as soon as possible.

Continue to regularly call your local grocer or frequently check online store availability as new shipments come in.

Hi I have a dog that licks every surface in my house. What can I use to clean and disinfect that won’t make him sick? Thanks!

Disinfectants, when used as directed, cause no harm to pets. After using a disinfectant, you can rinse with water after the surface air dries. The most important thing to prevent the spread of disease and germs is to practice proper use of disinfectants. 

One of our family members is immunocompromised as a result of a successful organ transplant six years ago. Question: should we continue to have our cleaning person come in every two weeks? Or are we better off trying to do it ourselves? We do have some limitations in terms of how far we can reach, and her vacuum and other tools are probably better than ours. Also, we would LIKE to keep her employed, if it is safe.

During this time, it is, of course, a personal preference in terms of comfort level of personal interactions including cleaning services. I’d speak with  your cleaning service regarding the precautions they are taking like wearing masks and gloves and changing their gloves in-between their different cleaning jobs.

Don't forget you can sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter to track the outbreak. All stories linked in the newsletter are free to access. 

Can I put paper towel in one of my empty wipes containers and add some sort of bleach solution? What should be the ratio? Without hand sanitizer available right now, we need to have something on hand in the car. Any ideas?

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 and can be used if appropriate for the surface. Before mixing, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation, and be sure to check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.

Prepare a bleach solution by mixing:

  • 5 tablespoons (⅓ cup) bleach per gallon of water or
  • 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

Visit the CDC for more information about resources that are effective against coronavirus.

We hardly go anywhere now. But I’m still cleaning my house like crazy. Am I wasting my best sanitizing and cleaning products (ones on CDC list) now? They’re so hard to come by that I worry I’m using them up too soon. And I’ve heard products like Seventh Generation disinfectants (thymol) are not good against this. Why are they in my cupboard?! How can I keep our house as clean as it needs to be without going into an anxiety spin over it? I find myself frozen.

Targeted hygiene practices are what you want to focus on. You do not need to 'panic clean' around the clock. 

The EPA continues to update its list of products that meet the criteria for use against coronavirus germs and more are getting added. Any of these will work when used as directed on the product label. However, you don’t need to kill the virus to remove it from a surface. Soap and water works to remove it and more cleaning products are being restocked in stores across the country, so I wouldn’t worry about running out. Just keep doing what you’re doing and make sure to wash your hands and clean frequently-touched surfaces regularly.

Do you have any scientific information on that ? I keep reading that on plastic and stainless surfaces it lasts the longest. Truth?

According to a preprint of a new study, the novel coronavirus could be detected up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel. However, practicing targeted hygiene practices including washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth is still the best defense against the spread of the virus. And disinfecting wipes can be used on stainless surfaces; put your plastic containers in the top rack of the dishwasher.

Is it safe to use bar soap to wash hands

 

Washing your hands with either liquid or bar soap for 20 seconds is effective. Some people may prefer the liquid soap because you’re otherwise sharing the bar soap with another person. While WebMD reports that some research has “found that bacteria can stay on bar soap that stays wet because it gets used frequently... [other] studies that have looked to see whether that’s a problem show that the bacteria don’t seem to transfer to the next user.” So the greater threat is not washing your hands thoroughly. Use whatever type of soap you prefer.

 

Is there any way to use my home supply to help disinfect surfaces?

The hydrogen peroxide you buy at the drugstore is usually a 3% concentration. You can use it as is or dilute it with water to 0.5% concentration to disinfect surfaces. Let it air dry for at least one minute before wiping. Always make sure to check the concentration of hydrogen peroxide on the product label before using.

Hi Brian, How frequently should I be disinfecting household surfaces?

The CDC guidance is to clean and disinfect as needed, so frequency will depend on how often a surface is touched. In general, you should be disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces every few days and food preparation surfaces more frequently. If someone is ill in the house, you’ll need to be even more vigilant and the CDC has useful guidelines.

Thank you for spending time with WaPo today. Many of the 7th Generation products say they kill 99.9% of viruses on their label and the product is made from thyme. Is there any truth to that ? And does it work against COvid 19.

A friend told me disinfecting wipes are almost useless to use on surfaces as they only move viral germs around and do not actually rid the surface of those germs. Is this true? Does a spray work better?

Yes, disinfecting wipes are effective in ridding surfaces of germs. When you are wiping down a surface with the disinfecting wipes, do not move in a circular motion. Be sure to wipe in straight line to ensure you are not spreading the germs further across a surface.

I have a college student at home who has most likely been exposed to Covid-19. How often should the bed linens be washed? Towels? At what temperature in the washer and dryer?

This is a great question. Wash at the hottest temperature safe for the fabric (check the care label) and then be sure to dry thoroughly, washing your hands after handling soiled laundry (ideally also wearing gloves and washing hands after removing the gloves) and after moving laundry into the dryer. The CDC has more advice on cleaning at home if someone is sick, or a suspected case, as well as specific temperature recommendations for cleaning to sanitize. 

What is does research say about using vinegar to sanitize surfaces?

While vinegar can contain bacteria-killing properties, it is not listed as an approved disinfectant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If you’re looking for cleaning products that will prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, EPA has a great resource on disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2.

Do you recommend cleaning goods from grocery stores before bringing those items into the house? If so, what is the recommended shopping hygiene practice?

The most important thing is minimizing exposure at the grocery store by making sure to keep distance between shoppers, avoid touching frequently-touched surfaces if possible and washing hands or using hand sanitizer afterward. After putting away groceries, wash your hands, clean/disinfect the counter they were sitting on and put any reusable bags in the laundry. For the groceries themselves, if it has a hard surface you could wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe, but in general these will items will have less chance of exposure and isn’t as much of a concern.

Brian Sansoni, thank you for this chat and taking questions to help us stay safe. Also, thank you to the Washington Post for all your efforts to keep us informed.

how to clean fruits/veggies to be eaten raw? also can you clean latex gloves a nd reuse them?

First off, please do not reuse latex gloves, per the CDC. For fruits and vegetables, the FDA has resources on how to wash them. 

Hi Brian, Would love information on products that are not only effective cleaners, but also safe to use around a newborn baby. Thank you!

There are a number of disinfectant and cleaning products that can be effective against the novel coronavirus on hard, nonporous surfaces, in accordance with the EPA Viral Emerging Pathogen Policy. As a parent, especially of a newborn, the health and safety of your child is paramount which is why proper disinfecting practices is key.

 

Once you use a disinfecting product, make sure you let the surface air dry as recommended on the product label. This is where some folks may not be allowing the product to properly disinfect. Depending on the product, you need to let the surface air dry anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes in order to let the germ or virus kill take effect. That’s why reading the label is so important.

 

If you’re disinfecting toys or other surfaces your baby may be in contact with, you can rinse with water after they air dry.

If I use soap and wash them thoroughly does the water have to be hot?

The temperature of the water when you’re washing your hands is more a preference of comfort. When you wash your hands with soap and water, the soap molecules surround bacterias and viruses and rupture their membranes, making them useless. Water washes these ineffective bacterias and viruses down the drain. What’s most important is scrubbing with soap thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.

I have disinfectants but haven't been able to get paper towels. I only have those yellow sponges. Can I disinfect the sponges to reuse?

No doubt paper products are in high demand. If you are out of paper towels, our first recommendation would be to shift to either a microfiber cloth or a washcloth that can be laundered after use.  As a last resort to take the place of paper towels for disinfecting would be sponges as they tend to stay moist and can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Vodka and Everclear range from 40% to 75% alcohol. Are these effective since we can't find isopropyl alcohol?

First off, please don't make your sanitizer with vodka! Even the manufacturer of Tito's Vodka urged their customers not to do that. 

Washing with soap and water is the most important action you can take to help prevent the spread of illness and disease. Any kind of soap fits the bill.

 

Second, hand sanitizers you buy in the stores often contain emollients that can help moisturize and soften the skin. Your homemade recipe could be too strong and potentially damage your skin.

 

Third, trying to play “Mr. Wizard” at home won’t guarantee that you’ll get the product formulation mix just right.

From a safety standpoint trying to mix types of alcohol in some home-made concoction could lead to safety issues – especially if there are young children in the home. When you mix your own, you’re on your own. You don’t have a product label to refer to in case of an emergency.

 

Stick with washing your hands with soap and water. There are also hand cleansing wipes available if you’re not able to grab some hand sanitizer.

I live alone and am self-isolating. Once I’ve disinfected surfaces, how often should I do it when it’s only me in the house with no pets? I only go outside for walks, and I’ve disinfected the parts of my car that I regularly touch.

If you aren’t interacting with others and are self-isolated, you shouldn’t have to worry too much. Just do your regular cleaning and wash your hands at critical times (after using the bathroom, before eating, when taking out the trash, etc.). If you do bring in groceries or take out food, be sure to wash hands after handling and disinfect surfaces afterward.

Can you give guidance on how often we should be washing our clothes? Should it be daily, in case we've come into contact with the virus during the course of the day?

If you’re going out into crowded spaces during the day, you may want to change out of your clothes and put them in your hamper when you come home, but you can wait to wash the clothes until you have a full load. If you’re using your elbows or sleeves to touch commonly used items like elevator buttons or door handles, you may want to wash coats and other outerwear more frequently than you normally do.

Your readers can continue to visit ACI's Cleaning for Coronavirus page for updated information and resources, www.cleaninginstitute.org/coronavirus.

And make sure you store your cleaning products out of sight and reach of children when you are done using them.

So glad Brian could be on the chat today and have such specific and helpful answers to so many questions we have about this pandemic and cleaning. Thank you to so many of you for posting your very important questions on cleaning. We will be on top of this in our coverage. Meanwhile next week some counter programming will be a little eye candy for you in this troubled time. We will have Jennifer Pickens talk about her new book " Entertaining at the White House: Decades of Presidential Traditions," which documents 60 years of entertaining customs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Until then, be safe and be careful.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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