Covid-19 Alert: Two Cleaning Products that Kill Coronavirus, According to Science
The feds signed off on these two cleansers as effective coronavirus killers, but there's more you need to know about preventing Covid-19.
We’re five months out from the first Covid-19 case in the United States, and Anthony Fauci, MD, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has delivered sobering news: “We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this.” Perhaps even deeper. U.S. cases have now topped three million, according to the coronavirus outbreak tracker from Johns Hopkins University. For that reason, getting two science-proven disinfecting products comes as a bit of good news.
Experts still believe that the virus is mostly transmitted person to person and not on surfaces, says Matthew G. Heinz, MD, a hospitalist in Tucson. There’s also more evidence emerging that tiny aerosolized particles, which linger in the air, can also spread the virus, according to a July 2020 study in Clinical Infectious Diseases. (Here’s what doctors want you to know about airborne transmission of Covid-19.)
However, surface spread of the new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) is still possible—so cleaning and disinfecting surfaces (and washing your hands) should still be a major part of prevention efforts for Covid-19, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes.
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EPA-approved Lysol products that effectively “kill” coronavirus
In July, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the first two Lysol products that were directly tested against the new coronavirus: Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist. “These products are distinct because of how they’ve been tested,” the EPA reports. “As SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, it has only recently become available for laboratory testing.” The agency expects more products like these to be approved in the coming weeks, but are the new items any better? Probably not.
“The new approval does not necessarily make them better products, just the first to officially present enough evidence that they kill this virus,” says Beth Ann Lambert, system infection control supervisor, Center for Quality and Patient Safety at Ochsner Health, in New Orleans. In fact, the two “new” Lysol products had been on the EPA’s List N since early March, she adds.
The active ingredients in Lysol products
“There’s a good bank of data that the products on List N should be effective against emerging pathogens like SARS-CoV-2,” says Haley F. Oliver, PhD, associate professor of food science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. “The active ingredients in Lysol work. We also know that hydrogen peroxide works and chlorine-based products work against more difficult viruses. There are a lot of products that work.”
Cleaning and disinfecting products for coronavirus
Despite the news, there’s actually plenty of coronavirus cleaning products you can turn to. The EPA tallies more than 420 products on its “List N.” To make the list, the agency requires that products be effective against SARS-CoV-2 or similar human coronaviruses, or against a virus that is tougher than SARS-CoV-2, according to the EPA. They even have a searchable list of disinfectants you can use against the novel coronavirus.
“There are numerous products which are suitable for cleaning and disinfecting and are effective against Covid-19,” says S. Wesley Long, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and genomic medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital.
SARS-CoV-2 is easy to kill
Well, technically you can’t “kill” the virus that causes Covid-19 because it’s not alive. But you can inactivate it with any of those 420-plus products on the EPA list. The two new Lysol products claim to wipe out SARS-CoV-2 within two minutes of contact according to research conducted by Lysol’s parent company; the results were published in May in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC). “It’s pretty widely known that this is a virus that is easily inactivated,” says Dr. Oliver. That’s because of the physical structure of the virus. The “envelope” that surrounds it is easily disrupted by disinfectants and soap and water. “It’s a wimp,” she adds. (Make sure you know these myths about Covid-19.)
Cleaning vs disinfecting: What’s the difference?
There is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting, and being thorough means you need to do both. You can’t sanitize surfaces before you first clean then, says Dr. Oliver. That means making it free of visible soil. “If your kids are at the table and have Spaghetti-Os all over, you can’t use Lysol thinking a miracle is going to happen,” she says. You have to get rid of the Spaghetti-Os first. “The CDC recommends cleaning with soap and water, followed by an EPA-registered disinfectant,” says Dr. Long.
Effective cleaning/disinfecting also involves timing and amount. “Unfortunately, there is no product on the market that kills pathogens instantaneously,” says Lambert. “The median contact time for products on the FDA’s List N is five minutes, and the range is 15 seconds to 30 minutes. The surface or object being cleaned must stay visibly wet with disinfectant for the appropriate contact time before it is clean and ready for use again.” Read the label for specifics. (Also, check out this A-to-Z cleaning guide for Covid-19.)
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Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces
According to the AJIC article, SARS-CoV-2 may remain infectious on “high-touch environmental surfaces” for hours to days, which underscores the need to disinfect well and disinfect often. (Here’s how you can disinfect your cell phone during Covid-19.)
“Frequently touched objects like doorknobs, light switches, handles, and electronics should be cleaned at least daily,” says Lambert. “Cleaning frequency should be increased for locations where many people pass throughout the day.” And if someone in the household has Covid-19, make sure all surfaces and objects they have touched are thoroughly cleaned before anyone else touches it.” Frequent hand washing and good hand hygiene are also an essential part of the process, says Dr. Long. (Also, if you’re using hand sanitizer, find out how long it really lasts.)
Protect yourself when using cleaners and disinfectants
A CDC survey published on June 12 found that more Americans are cleaning since the Covid-19 pandemic started, but more than a third aren’t following safe procedures. As a result, calls to poison centers from people worried about exposures to cleaners and disinfectants have been on the rise. Bad practices include washing food products with bleach, exposing bare skin to these products, or ingesting cleansers. You also shouldn’t mix products. Best practices include wearing gloves and eye protection if they’re recommended on the label, washing your hands after using, and having enough ventilation. Keep all cleaning and disinfecting products away from children.
Cleaning surfaces is good, but remember…
Wearing masks will do even more to protect you from the main source of Covid-19 infections—the air you and those around you breathe. On Wednesday, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and its HIV Medicine Association implored the public to take wear masks, saying: “Universal use of masks in public is the most effective step we can take toward gaining control over this pandemic and re-opening our economy with confidence.” (Don’t have one? Here’s how to make a face mask for coronavirus protection.)
- CNN: "US is still 'knee-deep' in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Fauci says"
- Johns Hopkins University: "Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases"
- Matthew G. Heinz, MD, hospitalist, Tucson
- Clinical Infectious Diseases: "It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Cleaning and Disinfection for Households"
- Environmental Protection Agency: "How does EPA know that the products on List N work on SARS-CoV-2?"
- EPA spokesperson
- EPA: "List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)"
- S. Wesley Long, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and genomic medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital
- EPA: "EPA approves first surface disinfectant products tested on the SARS-CoV-2 virus"
- Beth Ann Lambert, MS, System Infection Control Supervisor, Center for Quality and Patient Safety, Ochsner Health, New Orleans
- Haley F. Oliver, PhD, associate professor of food science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana and director, USAID Feed the Future Food Safety Innovation Lab
- American Journal of Infection Control: "Microbicidal actives with virucidal efficacy against SARS-CoV-2"
- CDC: "Cleaning and Disinfection for Households"
- CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: "Knowledge and Practices Regarding Safe Household Cleaning and Disinfection for COVID-19 Prevention — United States, May 2020"
- Infectious Diseases Society of America: "Face Coverings and Masks: Advice and Information for the General Public"