Bleach “is like using a bludgeon to swat a fly,” one expert explains.
For nearly 5,000 years, humans have concocted cleaning products, yet the simple combination of soap and water remains one of the strongest weapons against infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus. Even so, when outbreaks like COVID-19 occur and panic sets in, people rush to buy all sorts of chemical cleaners, many of which are unnecessary or ineffective against viruses.
Using bleach “is like using a bludgeon to swat a fly,” says Jane Greatorex, a virologist at Cambridge University. It can also corrode metal and lead to other respiratory health problems if inhaled too much over time.
“With bleach, if you put it on a surface with a lot of dirt, that [dirt] will eat up the bleach,” says Lisa Casanova, an environmental health scientist at Georgia State University. She and other experts instead recommend using milder soaps, like dish soap, to easily sanitize a surface indoors and outdoors.
In studies of influenza viruses, porous items like clothes and wood didn’t contain the virus for longer than four hours. That’s because these items pull moisture away from the virus and cause it to degrade.
No matter what you touch, soap and water is the best way to remove any potential coronavirus from your hands before it can lead to infection. The coronavirus does not penetrate through skin because your outermost layer is slightly acidic, which prevents most pathogens from entering the body.
Soap works so effectively because its chemistry pries open the coronavirus’s exterior envelope and cause it to degrade. These soap molecules then trap tiny fragments of the virus, which are washed away in water. Hand sanitizers work similarly by busting apart the proteins contained in a virus.
Tap water is also not a cause for concern, experts say, because any contamination would need to come via wastewater. Though the coronavirus has been found in feces, the virus has yet to actually be detected in wastewater, according to the CDC. Even if that were the case, U.S. water filtration is robust enough to kill coronaviruses.
Also please note: Your pets do not need to be sanitized, soap and water is just fine! There have been reports of animals injured from the use of alcohol or bleach – these are not necessary to use on your pet after they are outside. If you are concerned, a regular bath with soap and water work just fine.
Dr. Frank E. Kaden, D.C.
1927 Artesia Blvd., #7
Redondo Beach, CA 90278