You know it’s a pandemic when you search for cleaning products online at Walmart and the only “Bleach” available is Nirvana’s first album.
Or the hand sanitizer you clicked and placed in your virtual cart is out of stock before you have a chance to pay.
The question arises: if you can’t get the products that experts say you need to keep your hands clean and your home COVID-19 free, what can you use?
The answer is soap and water, says microbiologist Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, an associate professor of biology at York University.
The detergent will work in exactly the same way as it would if you were trying to remove the virus from your skin, she says.
Most of the soaps used to clean the house, including liquid dish soap and laundry soap, contain detergents that break down the virus, he says.
And a mixture of soap and water, with enough soap to make foam, works well at home.
The reason? COVID-19 – SARS-CoV-2 – has a lipid membrane that is like oil, says Golemi-Kotra.
“And the detergent molecule (in soap) has two parts. One part loves oil. The other side loves water, “she says. “The part of the detergent that loves oil is inserted into the virus membrane and interrupts it.”
The soap and water mix also removes dirt and saliva that could prevent disinfectants from contacting germs on surfaces, as well as oils, in which microorganisms can survive.
“For any disinfectant to work properly, it must first be washed with detergent. Then disinfect, ”says Golemi-Kotra. “You have to have that physical contact between the chemical and whatever surface you’re trying to disinfect to get the desired effect.”
(Many hand soaps that have antimicrobial properties also have detergents and other disinfectants, he says, but body soaps, or those that are mild to the hands, may not have detergents, and as such their disinfectant properties are less.)
Using soap and water is not practical in hospitals or other public settings, Golemi-Kotra says, because the viral load is much higher than successfully destroying the virus and removing it would require a lot of detergent and cleaning.
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“So in hospitals they use disinfectants to destroy the virus and they have the other property quite often that they evaporate and you don’t have to deal with wet surfaces everywhere,” says Golemi-Kotra. The products they use also often contain cleaning reagents that help remove dirt from the surface.
Although Golemi-Kotra says it is okay to use soap and water at home, she admits that she used a mixture of bleach and water to clean the bathroom at home that she shares with her husband and children.
The mixture is “an excellent disinfectant or disinfectant. It is quite powerful,” she says.
She sprays the solution and scrubs the surfaces before rinsing.
And as part of its cleaning routine, it has a regular circuit of surfaces like door handles that it sprays with disinfectant, which it leaves on for 15 minutes before coming back to clean them with a sponge.
“I am a microbiologist by profession. I work with bacteria and I can become paranoid quite easily. Part of the problem is that I understand what can potentially happen,” says Golemi-Kotra. “So I go beyond what is really necessary,” she says, even if it means that her husband and children tease her.
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