Brian Sansoni has had a very busy year. As senior vice president and chief spokesperson at the American Cleaning Institute, he has had to stay on top of the changes in the way America cleans because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the institute’s 140-plus member companies are the manufacturers and formulators of soaps, detergents and cleaning products used in household, commercial, industrial and institutional settings. Sansoni, a 20-year veteran of the association, watched the latest developments as the virus spread and gathered information on proper hygiene, cleaning and disinfection practices.
Sansoni recently joined The Washington Post for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Can you discuss the newly revised Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 cleaning guidelines, which no longer recommend regular disinfecting of high-touch surfaces in homes unless there has been a known or suspected person with COVID in your home in the last 24 hours?
A: The American Cleaning Institute has consistently echoed and amplified the advice shared by the CDC on cleaning and disinfecting. What’s important to note here is that proper use of disinfectants plays an important role in everyday life for millions of people. As noted, the CDC continues to recommend disinfection “where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 24 hours.” For too many households across the country, that situation is still a reality.
Q: Once everyone in my household has been vaccinated, do I still need to clean everything often?
A: Proper cleaning and disinfecting practices are proven to help protect against the spread of germs and viruses. Even after you are vaccinated, the cleaning and hygiene habits adopted at the onset of the pandemic will continue to play a crucial role in helping prevent the spread of future illness. Our recent survey found that 85% of Americans are likely to maintain the same level of cleaning practices even after the pandemic has passed. Smart, targeted hygiene and cleaning practices will continue to play a crucial role in protecting our families and communities .
Q: Can we be too clean? Can we destroy good germs with overcleaning?
A: Targeted hygiene practices can go a long way to help keep families and communities safe. You do not need to “panic clean” around-the-clock. Even in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, the CDC guidance is to clean and disinfect as needed. Clean frequently-touched surfaces, like door handles and light switches, every day and wipe down food preparation surfaces frequently. If someone in your home is sick, you will need to increase your cleaning practices.
Q: I’ve hoarded disinfect wipes since the pandemic started. Do they expire?
A: The shelf life of disinfectants is approximately one year from the manufacture date. The expiration date is there because the active ingredient may degrade or become less effective over time. Try to use up your supplies by the expiration date or donate some of your stockpile so it doesn’t expire before use. If you need to dispose of an expired product, unused amounts can generally be safely disposed of down the drain or in the trash, but check the label (and local laws) for safe disposal instructions.
Q: Can you refill bottles of hand sanitizer?
A: You should only refill hand sanitizer with the same product that was originally in the bottle. This is especially important for public settings, where bulk refillable dispensers must adhere to Food and Drug Administration policies. Not adhering to these practices poses serious risks to health and safety related to misbranding, product integrity, product stability and traceability.
Q: Is it okay to use hand sanitizer instead of washing my hands?
A: When the pandemic first broke out, 78% of Americans reported regularly washing their hands, but as the pandemic progressed, there was a decrease in handwashing and an increase in the use of hand sanitizer. While there are some instances when handwashing isn’t possible, using soap and water is most effective to clean your hands. When you wash your hands correctly, the soap molecules surround bacteria and viruses and rupture their membranes, making them useless. Water washes these ineffective bacteria and viruses down the drain. Follow proper handwashing practices by scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not handy, using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is your next best option.
Q: I’ve noticed a lot of popular home organizers storing cleaning products in decorative containers. Is this advisable?
A: The growing trend displaying detergent as decor is not advisable and also not safe. Storing liquid laundry packets and other laundry detergents in clear glass or plastic jars can open the door for potential accidental exposures. Liquid laundry packets and detergents should be stored in their original containers, up high out of sight and reach of children.
Q: What’s the best way to clean wood tabletops?
A: The easiest way to clean your wooden tabletop is with dish soap and hot water or a surface cleaner. You can dry it using a clean towel. If you need to sanitize the table top (say, if uncooked meat, fish or poultry have been placed on it), you may want to use a disinfectant spray or wipe, or mix 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water and wipe the surface with the solution. Make sure it stays wet for the entire contact time noted on the label.
Q: Any ideas for how to keep silver from tarnishing after cleaning?
A: The tarnishing is a chemical reaction when exposed to the air, so your best bet is storing it wrapped in tissue paper or cloth and placed in a sealable plastic bag. Regular cleaning can also keep tarnish at bay, so pieces that are used frequently will get less buildup that requires polishing.
Q: Is it necessary to use a bleach wipe whenever you clean the counter after cooking, or is soap and water sufficient?
A: Depending on what your countertops are made of, bleach could discolor or damage them. Be sure to check the product label and use a product safe for the surface. For the most part, you can clean countertops with soap and water or a surface cleaner after cooking. You may want to take the additional step of disinfecting the countertops, especially if someone in the home is ill.
Q: What is your toilet cleaning regimen?
A: I find that using those handy toilet cleaning handles make cleaning toilets easy. You use the handle to attach a scrub pad and then you clean around the rim. Then you can just dispose of the pad in the trash.
Q: What are the best fragrance-free cleaning brands? Fragrance chemicals are mostly unidentified and unregulated in the U.S. and give me asthma.
A: Consumers have an array of fragrance-free products available to choose from. And there is more information than ever before about cleaning product ingredients through product labels, and more specifically, brand and manufacturer websites and through applications like SmartLabel. The Fragrance Creators Association also has terrific information on fragrance ingredients.
Q: How should you clean greasy kitchen cabinets made of cherry wood?
A: Use a product that is formulated to clean finished wood, then buff with a soft cloth. You’ll want to use a product with soap or detergent to help remove the grease. When in doubt, check the product label and cabinet manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you have the best product for your cabinet surfaces.
Q: I lately am noticing a lot of weird lines and deposits in my flower vases. My guess is they are from the plant food I put in when I use a bouquet, but I have a nice clear glass carafe and even after multiple washings in the dishwasher, there is a weird line of sediment that won’t come off. Is there a best practice to clean these? Should I do them by hand first?
A: Try putting some dish soap and hot water in the vase and leave it overnight before hand washing. Use a brush to scrub the inside and remove any rings.
Q: What’s the proper cleaning protocol for cutting boards? I want to get a thick butcher block board. Can I use it for meat, or should that be another separate, non-wood board?
A: The United States Department of Agriculture says you may use a wood or nonporous surface for cutting raw meat. However, if you choose to use the butcher block board for cutting meat, you’ll want to make sure you only cut meat on it to prevent bacteria from the raw meat from contaminating a food that requires no further cooking. Use a second cutting board for fruits and vegetables. To care for your cutting board, wash it with dish soap and water after each use. Rinse with clear water. Air-dry or pat dry with clean paper towels. Note that some nonporous cutting boards, including acrylic, plastic or glass, can also be washed in the dishwasher. For the cutting board used for uncooked meat, sanitize it after cleaning with a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air-dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.
Q: I have a marble shower with smoked glass doors. It was built about 14 years ago. The marble and all fixtures and porcelain are holding up very well but the smoked glass doors are impossible to get clean; there is a buildup that is probably soap and shampoo plus hard-water stains. I don’t want to damage the marble or the glass doors so I haven’t dared to try vinegar. Any suggestions?
A: Glass shower doors require nonstreaking cleaning products for the best results. You can try a glass cleaner or a glass and multi-surface cleaner. If the door is heavily soiled, you may want to try a tub/tile cleaner. To prevent buildup in the future, you can use a daily shower cleaner. Mist surfaces right after showering while the walls are wet and warm — no rinsing, wiping or scrubbing is necessary.
Q: I clean our polished brass doorknobs and cabinet pulls with hydrogen peroxide or an alcohol wipe, but I’ve read that they can ruin the finish. What can I use to clean and disinfect them? I would use a soapy cloth, but am wondering if that could get into the lock mechanism.
A: To routinely care for lacquered brass, you can rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth. It is important to note that brass items coated with a lacquered finish should be cleaned with soap and water. It shouldn’t affect the lock.