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An Ounce of Prevention: Keeps the Germs Away
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 Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces

Another way to help you keep the germs away is to routinely clean and disinfect surfaces.

What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?
Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same thing. In most cases, cleaning with soap and water is adequate. It removes dirt and most of the germs. However, in other situations disinfecting provides an extra margin of safety.

You should disinfect areas where there are both high concentrations of dangerous germs and a possibility that they will be spread to others. That is because disinfectants, including solutions of household bleach, have ingredients that destroy bacteria and other germs. While surfaces may look clean, many infectious germs may be lurking around. Given the right conditions some germs can live on surfaces for hours and even for days.

Do you know where the "hot zones", or the contaminated areas, are in your home?
The kitchen is one of the most dangerous places in the house because of the infectious bacteria that are sometimes found in raw food such as chicken. Also, there is a potential for germs to be spread to other people because that is where food is prepared. You cannot always tell where or when germs are hiding. When you touch a contaminated object you can contaminate other surfaces that you touch afterwards and spread the germs to others.

Another potential hot zone is the bathroom. Routinely cleaning and disinfecting the bathroom reduces odors and may help prevent the spread of germs when someone in the house has a diarrheal illness. And do not forget your child's changing table and diaper pail.

What is the best way to routinely clean and disinfect surfaces?

  • You should follow the directions on the cleaning product labels. And be sure to read safety precautions as well.
  • If you are cleaning up body fluids such as blood, vomit, or feces, you should wear rubber gloves, particularly if you have cuts or scratches on your hands or if a family member has AIDS, Hepatitis B, or another bloodborne disease. And it is also a good idea to clean and disinfect surfaces when someone in the home is sick.
  • To begin, clean the surface thoroughly with soap and water or another cleaner
  • After cleaning, if you need to use a disinfectant, apply it to the area, and let it stand for a few minutes or longer, depending on the manufacturers recommendations. This keeps the germs in contact with the disinfectant longer.
  • Wipe the surface with paper towels that can be thrown away or cloth towels that can be washed afterwards.
  • Store cleaners and disinfectants out of the reach of children.
  • And remember, even if you use gloves, wash your hands after cleaning or disinfecting surfaces.

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This page last reviewed April 5, 2000

Division of Quarantine
National Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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