How to keep your home clean and free from coronavirus

As households continue to bunker down across Australia, attention has turned to the best ways of protecting homes from coronavirus.

Key points:

Households are a new frontier in the fight against coronavirus

Experts advise detergent and disinfectant are needed to clean surfaces

They say to target high traffic areas like doorknobs, handles and benches

Health experts have recommended a series of practical steps for maintaining good hygiene at home. UNSW virologist Dr Sacha Stelzer-Braid is confident households can minimise their exposure if the right procedures are followed.

How do I stop COVID-19 spreading to my home?
Take off your shoes at the front door.
“We just need to be really quite vigilant and strict,” she said. “It’s not a bad idea to take your shoes off before you enter the house, especially for children who like to jump on beds,” she said. “Definitely don’t put your shoes anywhere you would touch with your hands like your coffee table.”

Wipe down items brought into the house. Non-porous items like takeaway containers can be wiped down with detergent or soapy water and fresh produce should be washed.

Wash your hands, thoroughly.
Once inside, a thorough hand wash with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds is essential. “While the risk of transmission from anything you buy at the shops is low it’s still a good idea. We can’t hand-wash enough right now,” Dr Stelzer-Braid said.

What cleaning products work best?

Hand sanitisers and disinfectants are not enough. Scientists have shown that COVID-19 can survive outside the body on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to 72 hours. “Disinfectants don’t work by just splashing them about,” Professor Mitchell said. “They can’t break through dirt and organic material that’s left on surfaces, so you need to clean that first and then use the disinfectant.” Detergents are the key to breaking down the layers of dirt and dust to allow disinfectants to work.

Target ‘high-touch’ surfaces
Wipe down doorknobs, switches, and mobile phones twice a day with detergent.
As the virus is commonly transferred by hand-to-face touching, experts recommend wiping down all surfaces that are regularly handled.

Cleaning house

If you just want to clean, then hot, soapy water is generally enough. If you want to disinfect, clean first, then disinfect with the least toxic, most biodegradable product that does the job. Make sure that whichever product you use, you don’t damage the surface you’re working on. Different advice might apply if there’s someone at home with an open wound or a poor immune system

Diluted bleach and products with an alcohol content above 70 per cent are also effective products.

What if someone falls ill?

Quarantine sick house members for 14 days, increase cleaning. If a member of the house is feeling unwell, Professor Mitchell said cleaning around areas they frequented needed to be more thorough. “Think about cleaning the area within their room a little more often, using disinfectant after washing hands, and giving the taps a clean,” he said.

Should a member of the household show symptoms of COVID-19, Dr Stelzer-Braid said they should be quarantined to one room, preferably with their own bathroom. Contact with others should be at a minimum for a fortnight and cleaning should increase to several times a day. If possible, clothes and bed sheets — handled with gloves and surgical masks — should be washed more frequently to minimise the risk of transmission.

“It’s also always a good idea to try to flush clean air through the house so open the windows and doors,” Dr Stelzer-Braid said.

Keep clothing, cutlery separate

The clothing and cutlery used by an infected person can also spread the virus so they should be kept separate.

“A dishwasher is great, it will kill the virus. But if you don’t have one use hot water — as hot as you can handle it,” she said.

Technique matters

Wiping in an ‘S’ shaped pattern prevents re-contamination and will ensure the surface area is well-covered. Cleaning techniques can also make a difference to the risk of infection. Disposable gloves should also be worn.

Dr Stelzer-Braid said the key was not waiting until it was too late to implement good habits. “Getting on top of it early and having a good routine is really important,” she said. “If [infection] does happen, and it probably will happen to someone in the household, then it’s an easier transition.”

While these measures might not guarantee freedom from infection, Dr Stelzer-Braid said they help ensure the chances of the virus entering a home are minimised.