Follow Proper Steps to Clean and Sanitize Surfaces during COVID-19

April 20, 2020, 3:55 pm | Shannon M. Coleman, Angela Shaw, Anirudh Naig

Young woman cleaning kitchen table using spray and sponge by Prostock-studio/, Iowa – Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces are food safety practices that can help Iowans combat COVID-19 in their homes, according to food safety specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. However, many consumers are unaware of the proper steps to clean and sanitize in-home surfaces, said Shannon Coleman, Angela Shaw and Anirudh Naig.  

Coleman is an assistant professor and food safety state specialist in the ISU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Shaw is a food safety state specialist and associate professor in the ISU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Naig is a food safety state specialist and associate professor in the ISU Department of Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed interim recommendations for cleaning and disinfectants for U.S. households with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

The first step to clean and sanitize surfaces in the home is to understand the difference between cleaning and sanitizing, the specialists explained.

  • Cleaning means to remove soil, dust, grease or other debris from the surface.
  • Sanitizing means to reduce the microorganism on the surface.

The cleaning process typically includes using soap or detergent to scrub the debris from a surface. Dishwashing soap is an example of a soap or detergent product that can be used. Pre-rinsing to remove larger pieces of debris before scrubbing will make the process more effective. Follow this general procedure for cleaning surfaces:

  1. Wet the surface.
  2. Scrub the surface with detergent.
  3. Rinse the surface.
  4. Allow the surface to air dry.

The sanitizing process typically includes using a chemical disinfectant to reduce microorganisms on the surface.

“The surface you are sanitizing must be appropriately cleaned and rinsed of all soil, dust, grease or other debris before sanitizing. If any debris remains on the surface, it may inactivate the disinfectant,” Coleman said.

“During this unprecedented time, we ask those who are using a disinfectant to combat COVID-19 to please use the appropriate disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency,” Coleman added.

Coleman, Shaw and Naig noted that Iowans should follow the manufacturers' directions while preparing and using these disinfectants. It is recommended to use appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves and aprons, when handling chemical disinfectants as well. Follow this general procedure for sanitizing surfaces:

  1. Apply the disinfectant to the surface following the manufacturer's direction.
  2. Allow recommended contact time on the surface.
  3. Allow the surface to air dry. Do not wipe the surface with a cloth towel to dry. Cloth towels may recontaminate the surface.

The contact time is the time that the disinfectant needs to stay wet on a surface in order to ensure efficacy to reduce microoganisms on the surface. For example, Clorox® Germicidal Bleach requires a five-minute contact time, while Clorox® Clean-Up® Disinfectant Cleaner with Bleach (spray) only requires a 30-second contact time. For Lysol Disinfectant Spray to disinfect, the surface must remain wet for three minutes and then air dry. After sanitizing toys and food contact surfaces, rinse with potable water after the disinfectant has dried completely.

“It is necessary to remember that an area must be cleaned before it can be sanitized. You cannot sanitize a dirty surface,” Coleman stressed.

The products mentioned in this release are for example only. No endorsement of these products is intended.

Photo credit: Prostock-studio/

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