Are You Overcleaning? CDC Says It May Be Harmful

Yes, there is such a thing as too much cleaning.

The old adage that you can’t have too much of a good thing also applies to cleaning, according to recent comments made by Vincent Hill, Chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch. Hill, while speaking on a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored telephone briefing, said obsessively disinfecting to try and kill the virus may actually be doing more harm than good.

The CDC updated its safety guidelines April 5 to say that cleaning once a day is usually sufficient enough to remove Covid-19.

“In most situations, cleaning surfaces using soap or detergent, and not disinfecting, is enough to reduce the already low risk of virus transmission through surfaces,” Hill said. “Disinfecting surfaces is typically not necessary, unless a sick person or someone positive for Covid-19 has been in the home within the last 24 hours.”

Misusing Cleaners

According to CNN, Hill also noted the dangers of misusing household cleaners by either consuming the product or putting it on your skin.

“Nineteen percent wash food products with bleach, which could lead to their consumption of bleach that isn’t washed off, which can damage the body because bleach is toxic,” he said. “Eighteen percent used household cleaner on bare skin, which can damage the skin and cause rashes and burns.”

Bleach, while a powerful household cleaner, can cause serious issues if not used correctly. Bleach should never be mixed with the following:

  • Vinegar: When bleach and vinegar are mixed together, the combination creates chlorine gas which can cause eye irritation and breathing problems.
  • Ammonia: Bleach mixed with ammonia creates chloramine, a gas which is similar to chlorine gas. Additional symptoms from exposure to chloramine are shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • Pine-Sol: If you mix bleach and Pine-Sol in large amounts, it will create chlorine gas.

Cleaning vs. Sanitizing

There is also a difference between clean and sanitized. According to the CDCcleaning “removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects.” The CDC states that sanitizing “lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.”

Overcleaning is not limited to just surfaces, though. Common household items people can be guilty of overcleaning include bed sheets, kitchen towels and certain furniture. Cleaning improperly or overdoing cleaning can leave stains or shorten the life of the item.

It is important to make sure you’re using the right cleaning product for the object, and not a one-size-fits-all product.

Hygiene Theater

While on the CDC call, Hill also discussed the topic of “hygiene theater,” where people are more likely to be lax on safe social distancing due to an overconfidence from cleaning surfaces. The CDC says becoming infected from touching a contaminated surface is far less of a threat than other forms of contact. A recent CDC report said “infection via the fomite transmission route is low, and generally less than 1 in 10,000, which means that each contact with a contaminated surface has less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing an infection.”

However, Hill said that does not mean cleaning surfaces is not important. In fact you should be cleaning surfaces regularly while employing other Covid safety precautions at the same time.

“Putting on a show” to clean and disinfect “may be used to give people a sense of security that they are being protected from the virus, but this may be a false sense of security, if other prevention measures like wearing masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are not being consistently performed,” Hill said.

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Alex Shoemaker
Alex Shoemaker is the Digital Newsletter Editor of Family Handyman.