Avoid Over-Cleaning During the Pandemic Quarantine

by Steve King

Avoid Over-Cleaning During the Pandemic Quarantine

The Surprising Environmental Impacts of Mold

We’re living at a time when antibacterial soaps, wipes, and cleaning products are rapidly being emptied off the shelves. With the coronavirus pandemic, people are frantically purchasing cleaning supplies to keep their homes safe. Indeed, if you have someone sick at home or you’re immunocompromised and can’t participate in self-quarantine, then keeping things extra clean will be a priority. However, it’s not necessary to be over-cleaning your home if no one is sick, and everyone has healthy immune systems. This is especially true if everyone is observing proper social distance or quarantine measures. So let’s talk about how to clean properly during this pandemic quarantine. You might be surprised to learn that over-cleaning may do more harm than good.

What is over-cleaning?

If no one is sick or immunocompromised in your home, then there’s no need to clean more often than you usually do. You likely don’t need to be wiping and scrubbing surfaces several times a day. You also don’t need to douse your hands or bodies in antibacterial soap or be doing outrageous amounts of laundry either. There may be an urge to use lots of bleach and water to clean the bathrooms and kitchens every day, but this is not necessary. Cleaning once a week with non-toxic cleaners and keeping a regular laundry schedule should be fine. This is especially true if everyone is staying in, observing social distancing, and not exposed to anyone else. Of course, if someone is ill in your house or you’ve been exposed then your cleaning regimen likely needs to increase. You’ll also need to use sanitizing agents to kill and remove the virus. If these situations apply to you, then you can follow the CDC’s cleaning advice to prevent other family members from getting ill1.

Why might over-cleaning be harmful? 

By now, most people know that a sterile gut causes many health issues2. Well, the same can be said about our home environment. If you strip away all the healthy microbes in our homes, you’re setting up your environment for an onslaught of unhealthy microbes, like mold3,4. The more we clean away all the microbes, the more mold sees those empty spaces as free real-estate to grow and reproduce. This is because many microbial species compete with mold, which keeps their numbers low. But if there are no bacteria at all, then mold has a much better chance of taking up space3,4,5. This is especially problematic when there are more people at home using water to clean, shower, or cook. And in colder months, when we usually keep windows closed, moisture from breathing and living can really build-up. Nowadays, everyone is home more due to quarantine and shelter-in-place laws in many countries. As a result we have more people inside, which means an increase in moisture in many areas of the house. So between freeing up real estate to over-cleaning mixed with more moisture and less ventilation, this sets up the perfect storm for mold to grow. And since many people are now developing allergies and asthma from mold exposure, this can cause more health problems as we’re all quarantined at home5,6. The other problem with over-cleaning is that we may be contributing to the creation of bacteria that are resistant to these cleaners. Bacteria that survive after they’ve been bleached or doused in antibacterial solutions are on their way to becoming resistant, and therefore more dangerous to our health7,8. Lastly, over-using toxic cleaners can be dangerous to your health in general. They can cause respiratory or skin irritations when used in high quantities. This may not help when you’re already concerned about staying healthy under the threat of coronavirus7,8.

So how should I clean properly?

As mentioned above, if no one is sick or immunocompromised, then regular cleaning once a week with non-toxic solutions like vinegar or essential oils will suffice. You also don’t need to use a ton of water either, just enough to wipe away the dirt and soap suds. It’s essential to make sure you have ventilation around the areas that you do clean. Also, wherever your family conducts regular hand washing should have ventilation too. So be sure to turn on bathroom and kitchen fans if you have them. You can even use portable fans to keep air circulating throughout the home as well. If you’re able to open windows, that would be helpful too3. You also don’t need to use toxic antibacterial soaps for hand washing and showering. Regular soap works by attaching to bacteria and viruses and pulling them off. Then when you rinse with water, everything gets washed down the drain9.

How do I clean when we need to shop or get medicine?

When someone needs to do grocery shopping or pick up medicine and bring items back in the house, this can present some anxiety and confusion around cleaning. In this case, the person coming back from outside definitely needs to wash their hands1. If their clothes have been exposed, then they can either be left in a bag for several days or washed1. But if they haven’t been in direct contact or within six feet of anyone, then there’s no need to do extra laundry. Experts are saying that people don’t need to be as worried about grocery items as they thought10. Using regular safety measures for food handling will suffice. The same goes for food wrap and plastic bags, just practice proper hand washing and food safety as you would typically do1,10. It can be dangerous to use toxic wipes or cleaners near or around open food. These solutions are not meant to be consumed and therefore, shouldn’t be used to disinfect any food. The usual food handling, storage, and cooking practices will be good enough7.

Conclusion

As it was stated above, if no one is sick or immunocompromised and everyone is observing social distancing and quarantine practices, then there’s no need to over-clean. You can follow your regular cleaning and laundry schedule. And when you do clean, you don’t need to use toxic cleaners or use too much water. Make sure your home is well-ventilated around hand washing and cleaning areas. And when leaving home to pick up food or medicine, the tips above will help you make the right decisions about the cleaning and storage of those items. This is a confusing and scary time and many of us are feeling unsure about how to clean our homes and protect our families. Hopefully, these facts and tips will help you make the best decisions. Remember, hand washing and distance is the best measure for preventing the coronavirus, so going overboard in cleaning your home is really not necessary.




1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html
2. https://letthemeatdirt.com
3. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0064133
4. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2015.1139
5. http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/43325/E92645.pdf
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28608416
7.https://journals.lww.com/pidj/fulltext/2000/10001/consumer_and_market_use_of_antibacterials_at_home.6.aspx
8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK73515/
9. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
10. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/coronavirus-no-evidence-food-source-or-transmission-route


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