In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, finding proper cleaning supplies in your area might be more difficult than usual — and if you’re self-isolating and avoiding regular store runs, you might be wondering how you can use the items you have on hand to clean your home. You may see alcohol listed as an active ingredient on the labels of most all-purpose cleaners, and you may be aware that rubbing alcohol is often used in hand sanitizers to neutralize germs. But not all alcohol is equal when it comes to disinfecting, even though medical professionals have used forms of alcohol to sterilize and clean for hundreds of years. The truth is, you need to use a particular kind of alcohol to truly disinfect germs that can spread infection and disease.
If you’re wondering about sanitizing your own skin, a word of caution: Nothing is better at preventing the spread of germs than simply washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol can be used when you’re outside of your home and nowhere near a sink, but using alcohol, like vodka, to clean your hands alone is absolutely not recommended.
Still hoping to use alcohol or alcohol-based products to disinfect your surfaces? Here’s what you need to know before you get started.
Should I disinfect surfaces with alcohol?
You can disinfect hard objects and items in your home using regular rubbing alcohol. Found in stores or online, bottled rubbing alcohol is most commonly made using isopropyl alcohol, a colorless solution that often has a very strong odor. Mixtures that contain at least 70% alcohol are best if they can be sourced, and these mixtures can neutralize viruses and other bacteria on a surface if left wet for at least 30 seconds.
But you shouldn’t consider cleaning your entire home using rubbing alcohol, because these mixtures can be hard to use effectively when covering large surface areas. Why? Mixtures that contain more alcohol, while stronger, can evaporate off surfaces too quickly to actually neutralize the germs on that surface. While smaller items with non-porous surfaces, like house keys or even the surface of a toilet handle, can often be kept wet for long enough by reapplying rubbing alcohol, it would be much harder to do on a broader surface, let alone the whole house.
The best way to disinfect your entire house would involve using an EPA-approved disinfectant, but if you can’t find these products, bleach might be your best next bet. Per advice from the CDC, an easy way to disinfect non-porous surfaces is to combine 1/3 cup of regular chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) bleach per gallon of water. For smaller batches, use 4 teaspoons of regular chlorine bleach and 1 quart of water. You’ll need to let the surface remain wet for at least five minutes, letting it air dry, before you rinse down all surfaces with warm water afterwards. Be careful not to splash the bleach solution on your clothes or in your eyes, and use it sparingly on stainless steel sinks and surfaces. It’s also important to note that the bleach and water solution needs to be made fresh each day you use it.
Can I use liquor to clean my house?
Let’s cut right to the chase: No. The kinds of liquors that you use to create your favorite cocktails are not concentrated enough to actually disinfect surfaces and effectively remove germs and bacteria. Most commercial forms of vodka, for example, contain alcohol concentrations that hover around 40%. Disinfectants that can kill germs have a much higher alcohol concentration that is made much differently than the kinds of alcohol humans consume orally.
If you come across any version of an alcohol product and are thinking of using it to disinfect, it should contain at least 70% alcohol before you even consider using it.