Alexandra Koch

Disinfecting your home or building safely during COVID-19

If you’re considering hiring a service, here are questions to ask

Whether you operate a business, a church, a school or another building, you’re probably thinking about ways to disinfect your space to protect people from COVID-19. Likewise, consumers may consider large-scale cleaning if they’re moving into a new home or apartment.

We’ve seen a sudden rise in companies offering these services with the promise of a deep clean. Some have been in the business for a long time; others, like some pest control operators, are newcomers. Companies such as these rely on their spraying equipment to disinfect large areas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people are most at risk of being infected through respiratory droplets from someone within six feet who has the virus. But transmission is also believed to be possible through contaminated surfaces. “Current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials,” the CDC says.

If someone with COVID-19 has been in a room, it’s currently unknown how long the air or surfaces inside that area remain infectious, the CDC says. That fact has created this market for disinfectant services.

If you’re considering hiring one of these providers, or if you expect to frequently go into a building that uses a regularly scheduled disinfection service, here are some tips and information you should know:

BACKGROUND ON DISINFECTION SERVICES 

Disinfecting services kill viruses on surfaces or objects. Companies use either a spray or fogger. The disinfectant wets the surfaces and after a specific number of minutes, it kills the virus in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and CDC guidelines

Companies can use chemicals registered with the EPA (on what it calls List N) as sprays, foggers or wipes to combat SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The chemicals are usually made up of various compounds like ammonium, chlorine, different alcohols, hydrogen peroxide and so on.

However, the EPA does not license companies that offer disinfection services, according to an EPA spokesman.

And because none of the chemicals approved to combat SARS-CoV-2 are “restricted-use pesticides,” there are no federal requirements for people using the chemicals to be certified or even trained. That said, the EPA does stress that commercial applicators and individuals using any disinfectants should follow directions for proper use. 

Beyond that, some states have training, certification and licensing requirements. You should check either through the EPA or a trusted third-party site if your state has these standards. 

KILLING THE CORONAVIRUS:

  1. The EPA currently has more than 450 chemicals registered as effective for fighting the virus that causes COVID-19. As mentioned, these chemicals are contained on the EPA’s List N.

  2. The EPA says it “expects” the chemicals on List N kill SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) because they’ve either: Demonstrated they work against SARS-CoV-2; demonstrated they work against a virus that is harder to kill than SARS-CoV-2; or demonstrated they work against another type of coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV-2.

  3. If a particular product doesn’t have an EPA registration number, that means the EPA has not reviewed any data on whether the product will kill public health pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 or other viruses.

  4. The EPA also lists the contact time, meaning how long each chemical takes to kill the virus. The typical length is 5 to 10 minutes.

  5. In July, the EPA approved two Lysol products as effective against SARS-CoV-2 when used on hard, non-porous surfaces. They are Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist. Lab tests found both kill the virus within two minutes, the EPA said.

QUESTIONS TO ASK TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK:

  1. Exactly what product (and chemical or chemicals)  will the company use? Is the product registered with the EPA?  You can ask for documentation that proves the active ingredient is on the EPA’s List N. Alternatively, once you know what’s being used, you can check yourself. There’s a great search tool on this site; you can use the product name, active ingredient, registration number or other information.

  2. Does the disinfectant work on hard surfaces or soft surfaces or both? The CDC says soft, porous materials, such as carpet and chairs with fabric, are generally more difficult to disinfect than hard surfaces. There are a “limited number” of products approved to disinfect soft items.

  3. What does the service claim to do? Watch out for false claims. Do they claim to be "endorsed" by the CDC, or “recommended” by the EPA? That would be misleading.

  4. What is the contact time or dwell time, meaning how long before the room or touch surfaces will be germ-free? Typically, it’s five to 10 minutes, but you want to make certain you don’t touch anything until the virus has been eliminated.

  5. How will the company sanitize hard-to-clean and high-traffic touch surfaces such as keyboards, elevator buttons, door knobs, etc.? Make sure they provide a clear explanation on how they plan to do this safely.

  6. How long before the surfaces are dry and before the room can safely be used?

 

  1. Do the methods the company uses follow CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines?

  2. Could the products damage any surfaces?

WHAT TO DO BEFORE HIRING A COMPANY:

  1. Get an estimate up front and compare costs from different companies.

  2. Check out the company's ratings with various business review services.

  3. Realize it’s important to clean and remove any visible dirt before disinfecting. If the surface is not cleaned first, germs can hide under dirt or dust and reduce the quality of the disinfectant. Ask whether your vendor provides this as part of the service or for an extra fee. The CDC says that normal surface cleaning with soap and water will reduce the amount of the virus that could be present, which also reduces the chance of exposure.

  4. Arrange to monitor the workers, if possible, to verify that they are cleaning properly.

As with many issues surrounding COVID-19, information on fighting the virus can change as experts learn more. It’s important to check sources you trust periodically for any updates about how you can best protect yourself, your family and your workplace.

For more information:

https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/can-i-use-fumigation-or-wide-area-spraying-help-control-covid-19

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-04/documents/316485-b_reopeningamerica_combo_placard_infographic_4.19_6pm.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-04/documents/316485-c_reopeningamerica_guidance_4.19_6pm.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html

https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/i-need-disinfect-public-space-store-or-school-what-do-i-need-know

https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-approves-first-surface-disinfectant-products-tested-sars-cov-2-virus