If you know me in real life, you probably already know that a) I am extremely OCD, and b) I’m a germaphobe. I keep getting asked why I keep vats of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in my room and why I carry around pocket-sized hand sanitizer bottles.
And yes, I admit I’m a germaphobe, and a little over-the-top at that, but it’s not unhealthy to sanitize things. It’s only unhealthy if you start obsessing over every little detail, like eating potato chips with chopsticks instead of fingers. No, I most definitely did not do that at one point in my life, why do you ask?
So with lots of ongoing fake news and misinformation floating around due to the recent outbreak, I thought it would be a good time (and idea) to write about exactly how to stay clean and not infect others.
Before we start
I am a student writing a blog post. I am not a medical professional. If you believe you are infected with the recent coronavirus, for heaven’s sake call the appropriate hotline in your country. Do NOT just go to the emergency room undeclared. The authorities will direct you on how to safely move to a designated isolation area so that you don’t infect others.
That being said, let’s get started.
Best – Washing your hands PROPERLY
This is the best way to limit the spread of the virus. The truth is, hand soap is probably the most effective way of eliminating contaminants on you than the other methods in this blog post combined.
Does soap type matter?
There are a couple of studies that say liquid soap is the most effective type of soap, but quite honestly it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you wash your hands. If you think foam soap is less effective, just use more of it and wash your hands longer – the study found that the effectiveness of foam soap is comparably less than other soap types because you cannot easily lather them.
Oh, and if you read the linked article, you will know that the FDA was unable to find correlation between effectiveness and soap that claims to be “anti-bacterial.” So when you’re buying soap just buy liquid soap, followed by bar soap or foam soap. Don’t just blindly buy whatever soap that has the label “anti-bacterial.”
How long should I wash my hands?
The CDC in the US recommends 20 seconds. That’s 2 happy birthdays or just you counting out 20 seconds. I like this video from Vox that explains the rationale, but the TL;DR summary is that soap tears apart virus pathogens with a 20-second chemical reaction time. That’s why experts say to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds – you need to give your soap time to break down the virus particles.
Does water temperature matter?
Short answer – no.
Long answer – viruses and bacteria typically die at high temperatures at extended periods of time. So if you ran out of soap and was thinking about dousing your hands in hot water, think again. You’ll have to practically boil your hands to kill the germs for at least 30 minutes or possibly longer.
I mean, you could do that. You’d just no longer have hands.
Joking aside, cold water will still do the trick just fine.
What about pathogens in the water source?
If you’re in a developed country, then you shouldn’t have to worry. Remember, the pressure you get from your water pipes is due to elevated water sources, like water towers. This means that there is constant pressure inside the pipes to keep water flowing, and simultaneously keep any contaminants out of the water source. If there is a leak, contaminants would not be able to enter the water source because of this pressure.
So again, if you’re in a well-developed country, no sweat. You will most likely be infected in some other way than running water.
Medium – Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
What counts as alcohol-based hand sanitizer?
Any hand sanitizer with 60% or higher alcohol content can be called alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and the US CDC designates this percentage because it has been found to kill all known types of coronaviruses (and other germs, too, probably). This means that it is the next most effective way of cleaning yourself if you have used up your soap supply.
The other type of hand sanitizer relies on chemical additives, like benzalkonium chloride. While they may kill some germs, they may only be able to inhibit growth for certain types of germs, and in other cases not be able to kill any germs at all, depending on the pathogen type.
According to this article, non-alcohol based hand sanitizers are not completely useless, but if I had to choose, you know what I’m getting.
Got it. What should I be looking for?
Any hand sanitizer from reputable brands like Purell and 3M should do the trick. Make sure the product lists the exact alcohol percentage, and alcohol type (most hand sanitizers will use ethanol). Make sure the percentage is 60% or above.
Again, I still recommend hand washing regularly. But alcohol-based hand sanitizers will work, too!
Low – non-alcohol hand sanitizers
Use them only if you don’t have other options. They are not effective against coronavirus particles, but can still clean your hands.
So we’ve talked about hand cleansing pretty much, but what about…
According to various medical sources, the new coronavirus can remain on surfaces up to nine (!) days, depending on the surface material. The good news is, the pathogens will most certainly die if you use cleaning spray on them. Recommended brands include Lysol and Clorox, to name a few. Check out the full list here.
To make your own cleaning spray, get a spray bottle and fill it with 3 part water, 1 part bleach. You can try half-half water and bleach if you believe higher concentrations will work better for you. Just don’t use bleach without diluting it at all. Once you have mixed up your cocktail, spray it on any dirty surfaces and let it rest until it completely dries away. Remember, if you wipe away the cleaning spray before it has a chance to kill the pathogens it won’t do much good.
I’m a health official. What if we go further?
Commercial products include D7 made by Decon7, but they are only available in bulk, I believe. So if you’re a health official in a city, for example, this may be what you are looking for.
But seriously. Go consult with professionals.
Now onto the next section!
With studies showing how disgusting our phones and computer keyboards could be, there’s no question about whether or not you should disinfect your devices.
A better question to ask would be how. Remember, electronics and water (usually) don’t mix, so that rules out washing your devices with soap and water. Sure, you could probably do that for your waterproof phone, but for your laptop?
Yup. So here are a couple ways to disinfect your electronic devices.
If you have a water-resistant phone, run it under tap water for a couple of seconds. Water gets rid of most dirty particles, though it won’t perfectly sanitize your phone. You may want to think twice about using soap however, because soap can get into these little crevices and never come out. And if a large amount of soap manages to get into the earpiece or your speaker, you’ll have to rinse it out thoroughly or audio from them will sound muffled. (Don’t ask me how I know…)
If you have a non-water-resistant phone, use the disinfecting wipes mentioned above to wipe down all surfaces of your phone.
If you have an iPhone, good news – Apple recently authorized 70% alcohol wipes for use on your phone, as well as wipes from Lysol and Clorox. Quoting from their website:
Is it OK to use a disinfectant on my iPhone?
Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your iPhone. Don’t use bleach. Avoid getting moisture in any openings, and don’t submerge your iPhone in any cleaning agents.
I suspect this would work for other phones, but since they don’t specify your screen coating may peel away and your warranty will probably be void. Still better than contracting SARS-nCoV-2, though!
If you have a UV machine like PhoneSoap, consider putting your phone under UV-C light for a couple of minutes to kill remaining particles on the screen. While it hasn’t been proven to kill the new strain of coronavirus, UV-C was effective against the previous strain of coronavirus, SARS. Just don’t use it on yourself, though.
(I posted an update below about UV-C lighting; scroll down a bit more to read it!)
If you have a laptop, use the disinfecting wipes shown above to wipe down all surfaces of the laptop, except for the keyboard. For the keyboard, use a damp cloth (not damp enough for water to come out when you squeeze it) to wipe it down a bit. Laptop keyboards are usually fragile and they are prone to damage, so don’t expose it to a lot of moisture.
For desktops, you could use the disinfecting wipes (again). Seems to be a theme, eh? But whatever you do, do not stick your keyboard in a dishwasher. There are some YouTube videos claiming that keyboards will work fine once dried out. While it may for a bit, the corrosive minerals deposited by the water from your dishwasher will slowly corrode most metal contacts and render your keyboard unusable. So don’t be an idiot and just clean it manually.
Hopefully these tips can help you stay clean during this epidemic. Be mindful of you and others and try not to spread the disease. Stay safe!
Update – May 25
FSGI reached out to me and shared their article on UV-C light and how it is effective against COVID-19 pathogens. I recommend you take a look since they look like they know their stuff and my preliminary fact-checking didn’t pick up anything weird. (Do let me know if you find anything suspicious!)
I found the portion about Far-UVC light pretty interesting. So apparently they somehow made a special variant of UV-C light that cannot penetrate your eyes or sensitive parts of your body, which means it can be installed as public light fixtures and sanitize a large swath of public space. Pretty neat! Obviously the article points out it’s still a proof-of-concept developed by the boffins over at Columbia University, but if this works I think it’ll radically change how we design public spaces. Just think about one of these lights constantly sanitizing door handles!
This blog post is NOT sponsored by any entity, including FSGI. They just emailed me and let me know that they also had an article about UV-C light and I found their article cool and informative. If you’re curious about the UV germ-killing light stuff I recommend you read their article!