SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is believed to spread primarily when a person with the virus coughs or sneezes in close proximity to someone who is healthy — underscoring the current emphasis on social distancing.
However, the possibility that healthy people can contract the virus by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their mouth or eyes hasn’t been ruled out. This is why we’re constantly being reminded to wash our hands and wipe down surfaces during the current pandemic.
But proper cleaning and disinfecting means using the right products. Some popular cleaning products won’t stop COVID-19, while others contain harsh ingredients that carry health risks of their own. And constant handwashing may damage skin if precautions aren’t taken.
Perhaps you return home from shopping and drop your reusable bags on the dining table. Maybe you took the kids for a walk in the neighborhood and forgot to wash everyone’s hands upon returning. These are just a couple of ways that surfaces in the home can become contaminated — drastically increasing the risk of infection.
A new study, as yet unpublished, by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and other institutions finds that SARS-CoV-2 can persist for 2 to 3 days on plastic or stainless steel surfaces. This means that forgetting to wipe down surfaces can have consequences even days later.
“Repeatedly washing hands and using hand sanitizer can cause skin irritation and fissures,” said Dr. Suzanne Friedler, board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology and clinical instructor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center.
To prevent skin damage, Friedler recommends we avoid washing with hot water and use soap for sensitive skin.
“When using hand sanitizer, try to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer,” Friedler said.
Friedler also recommends applying hand cream often, and if you’re putting on gloves, make sure your hands are dry beforehand to decrease irritation. “You can also wear cotton gloves underneath rubber ones,” she said.
“[SARS-CoV-2] is an enveloped virus. This means that the virus has an outer protective lipid coat. Anything that effectively disrupts this outer membrane, in turn, can kill the virus,” Brendaliz Santiago-Narvaez, PhD, an assistant professor of biology at Rollins College in Florida, told Healthline.
Santiago-Narvaez pointed out several good options for disinfecting your home.
Her first recommendation is also the simplest: “Soap and water — no antibacterial soap needed. Soap and water alone are sufficient to disrupt this outer layer that the virus needs in order to infect. This is why I would recommend cleaning surfaces with water and soap first.”
According to Santiago-Narvaez, one common household product easily disinfects the screens of electronic devices: “isopropyl alcohol, minimum 70 percent alcohol. Alcohol disrupts membranes, hence why it can kill the virus. This option is great for touchscreens, computer monitors, etc.”
She added that “traditional laundry detergents are sufficient to wash clothing.” But she emphasized that we should “try to use warmest possible water in the wash cycle.”