Disinfecting viruses in your home

Consumer Reports News: May 04, 2009 03:55 PM

The swine (H1N1) flu outbreak has many of us wondering how to keep our homes safe and clean. Soap, water, and a little elbow grease is usually enough to reduce germs. But if someone in your household is ill with a flu, or any other virus, you’ll want to make sure you are killing those germs effectively. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts for disinfecting your home:


• Use a "disinfectant" product registered with the EPA for hard non-porous cleaning surfaces, such as door knobs, handles, tables, and floors—and especially for those in the bedroom, and bathroom. You'll see an EPA label on the product indicating it kills viruses. EPA-registered chlorine bleach/hypochlorite solutions are also effective against viruses.

• Follow label instructions when using any EPA-registered disinfectant.

• Disinfect with bleach if you don’t have a disinfecting cleaner or wipe on hand. The CDC recommends using 1/4 cup chlorine bleach with one gallon of cool water.

• Open a window or use a fan to ventilate when cleaning with disinfectants.

• Keep all cleaning products out of reach of children.

• Wash linens with laundry detergent and tumble dry on hot settings.

• Wash dishes either in a dishwasher, or by hand with soap and hot water.

• Consider washing kids’ toys and other items in the dishwasher, to sterilize them. You can put soft plastic items and other more delicate items on the top shelf.

• Wash your hands vigorously, for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water after handling laundry, dishes, or any other potentially contaminated house wares.


• Use disinfectants on skin, or orally.

• Buy "antibacterial" cleaners. Antibacterial agents, such as triclosan, don't kill viruses and may lead to resistant forms of bacteria.

• Go overboard trying to maintain a "germ-free environment." You don’t need to use the above disinfectants all the time, unless somebody in your household has a medical reason for doing so.

• Share linens, eating utensils, and dishes with someone who is sick before washing them.

• "Hug" laundry when you’re gathering it or getting ready to wash it.

Urvashi Rangan, Technical Policy Director, Consumers Union

For more on how to keep your computer keyboard, mouse, and monitor germ-free, see our Electronics blog.

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