Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Where are germs found?
Germs are a part of everyday life. Some of them are helpful, but others are harmful and cause disease. They can be found everywhere - in our air, soil, and water. They are on our skin and in our bodies. Germs are also on the surfaces and objects that we touch.
Sometimes those germs can spread to you and make you sick. For example, there could be germs on a tv remote. You could get infected with the germs if you touch the remote and then rub your eyes or nose or eat with your hands.
How can I avoid getting germs from surfaces and objects?
To avoid becoming infected by germs from surfaces and objects, it is important to wash your hands often. But you can't wash your hands every time you touch something. So it's also important to regularly clean and disinfect surfaces and objects.
What is the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting?
Some people think that disinfecting is same thing as cleaning or sanitizing. But they are actually different:
Cleaning removes dirt, dust, crumbs, and germs from surfaces or objects. When you clean, you will likely use soap (or detergent) and water to physically clean off the surfaces and objects. This may not necessarily kill the germs. But since you removed some of them, there are fewer germs that could spread infection to you.
Disinfecting uses chemicals (disinfectants) to kill germs on surfaces and objects. Some common disinfectants are bleach and alcohol solutions. You usually need to leave the disinfectant on the surfaces and objects for a certain period of time to kill the germs. Disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs.
Sanitizing could be done by either cleaning, disinfecting, or both. Sanitizing means that you are lowering the number of germs to a safe level. What is considered a safe level depends on public health standards or requirements at a workplace, school, etc. For example, there are sanitizing procedures for restaurants and other facilities that prepare food. What you do to sanitize will vary, depending on your needs. You might be mopping a floor using a mop, a chemical, and water. You might use a dishwasher to sanitize the dishes. Or you could be using an antibacterial wipe on a tv remote.
If you both clean and disinfect a surface or object, you can further lower the risk of spreading infection. There are products that clean and disinfect at the same time.
Which surfaces and objects do I need to clean and disinfect?
To prevent the spread of infection, you should regularly clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often. For example, in your house, this would include countertops, doorknobs, faucet and toilet handles, light switches, remotes, and toys.
How can I safely clean and disinfect?
It's important to be safe when using cleaning and disinfecting products:
Store them in the containers they came in. Always follow the instructions and pay attention to the warnings on the label.
Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants unless the labels say that it is safe to do so. Combining certain products (such as chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaners) can cause serious injury or even death.
Check the label to see whether you need to use gloves to protect your hands and/or eye protection when using the products
If you swallow, inhale, or get them on your skin, follow the directions on the label or get medical help
Store them out of the reach of children
Cleaners, Sanitizers & Disinfectants (American Academy of Pediatrics)
What's the Difference Between Products that Disinfect, Sanitize, and Clean Surfaces? (Environmental Protection Agency)
How to Sanitize Your Phone and Other Devices (Federal Communications Commission) Also in Spanish
6 Home Cleaning Recipes (University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Toxics Use Reduction Institute) - PDF
How To Clean and Disinfect Schools To Help Slow the Spread of Flu (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
How to Disinfect to Kill Germs (National Jewish Health)
How to Disinfect your Workspace (Department of Homeland Security)
Videos and Tutorials
How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home if Someone Has COVID-19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)