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How to Clean and Disinfect Facilities in Community Settings to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID-19


Cleaning and disinfecting can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in buildings in community settings, because these practices help reduce the risk that people will be infected by touching contaminated surfaces.

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as of November 2021 says that the risk of being infected this way is very low, but cleaning and disinfecting can still reduce that risk, as can regular handwashing and hand-sanitizer use.

But what's the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? As you develop plans for your janitorial team, it's important to understand the distinction.

So, when do you need to clean and disinfect? According to the CDC, daily cleaning is usually enough to get rid of COVID-19 virus that may be on surfaces, as long as no one who has a confirmed or suspected case has been in the space.

If someone who is sick or has tested positive has been in the space within the past 24 hours, the CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting the space. The CDC recommends waiting at least several hours before cleaning and disinfecting and closing the area off until after it has been cleaned and disinfected.  

If more than 24 hours have passed since the person was in the space, cleaning is enough.

If more than three days have passed, it's not necessary to go beyond the normal cleaning procedures.

Facility managers may also want to consider either disinfecting or cleaning more frequently if places meet these criteria:

  • High-traffic areas
  • Areas with poor ventilation
  • Areas without access to handwashing or hand-sanitizer stations
  • Areas used by people who have an increased risk of COVID-19

The CDC notes that this guidance is not intended for healthcare settings, manufacturing workplaces or other settings where specific regulations might apply.

Tips for Using Disinfectants

When using a disinfectant, read and follow the directions on the product's label, which will explain how to use it safely and effectively.

Most disinfectants are intended to be used only on hard, nonporous surfaces, such as doorknobs and stainless-steel counters. Surfaces that are visibly dirty should be pre-cleaned with soap and water before disinfecting.

For soft, porous surfaces, such as upholstery and drapes, visible contamination should be removed first, and cleaners that are appropriate for soft surfaces should then be used. If the items can be laundered, they should be laundered using the warmest water possible and then dried completely. If disinfection is necessary, choose an EPA List N disinfectant approved for soft surfaces.

Disinfectant Contact Time

When applying the disinfectant, it's important that the treated surface be visibly wet for a certain length of time—this is called the contact time. Required contact times can be as short as 15 seconds or as long as 30 minutes, depending on the product. The EPA lists the contact time for each of its approved disinfectants and provides information about the surfaces on which the disinfectant can be used.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.