Homes are not hospitals; They’re not meant to be sterile. However, in the new reality of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, many people are being forced to stay home, sometimes with a sick loved-one. There is a lot of concern right now about how to effectively clean, sanitize or disinfect countertops in household kitchens and bathrooms, so today we delve into the best practices of just that.
How to Disinfect Natural Stone Surfaces
If your kitchen looks like an operating room with stainless steel everywhere, there’s not much to worry about in terms of damaging surfaces with harsh cleaning products. But most homeowners opt for a less industrial look, by choosing marble, quartzite, or engineered Quartz. None of those surfaces can take chemical abuse like stainless steel. The good news is that it’s possible to clean, sanitize and even disinfect all of the natural stone surfaces on the market. It just takes a little extra care and patience.
First of all, put away the bleach and don’t even think about using vinegar. Leave the bleach for ceramic and stainless steel surfaces, like bathtubs, sinks and door knobs. Keep the vinegar for cooking; it has not been approved as a disinfectant, it’s not very effective at killing viruses, and it will damage natural stone (even when diluted).
While diluted bleach and some of the more acidic cleaners on the market will not damage natural stone countertops immediately, they will dull the surface over time. Bleach can also damage lungs if not used in a well-ventilated area – something that anyone at risk of catching COVID-19 would definitely want to avoid, since the disease attacks the lungs.
The best alternative, when you need to disinfect natural stone countertops, is rubbing alcohol with 70% or higher alcohol content. Alcohol is relatively neutral in pH, so it won’t etch marble or softer granites. Honestly though, countertops don’t need to be disinfected all the time, unless a household member has been diagnosed with or is suspected to have COVID-19, or any other contagious illness, such a seasonal influenza. High touch surfaces – including countertops – should be disinfected daily if someone in the household is sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.
Is Cleaning Frequently Just as Effective as Disinfecting?
Cleaning frequently is effective too. Simple soap and water will remove dirt, spills, and other messes, but it also does a pretty good job of removing germs, including viruses and bacteria. For viruses, the soap and the scrubbing action helps to break down the outside of the virus cells. Rinsing and wiping helps to remove the viruses and bacteria from the surface.
Here’s a primer between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting:
- Cleaning natural stone is easy. Just use soap, warm water, and a non-abrasive cloth or sponge. Thoroughly scrub the entire surface with soap and water. Rinse the sponge, repeat with a clean, damp sponge to remove soap residue, and then dry with a soft dish or hand towel. Household cleaners that are labeled as safe for use on marble and granite should be fine too, if soap and water seem too simple. The same cleaning regimen can be used for engineered Quartz.
- Sanitizing is a step above cleaning. The goal of sanitizing is to reduce – not eliminate – the presence of viruses, bacteria or molds that can make people sick. To be considered effective at sanitizing, the product needs to be able to reduce germs to a safe level, as determined by the CDC. If you read the instructions on the back on most household cleaners, you will see how long you need to let the product sit on the surface to effectively sanitize. Usually, sanitization requires the product to sit for about 60 seconds, before it’s swept away with a sponge or cloth.
- Disinfection, on the other hand, aims to kill all viruses, bacteria and mold. To properly disinfect, some products may need to sit on the surface – and remain wet – for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the product. If the product evaporates before the time is up, it did not have enough time to do its job. In that case, the surface needs to be wet with product again.
It’s always recommended to test a product out on an inconspicuous spot before applying it to an entire countertop and letting it sit for several minutes. As mentioned above, harsh cleaning products, such a bleach, can cause damage to the countertop’s finish. It might not be immediate, but the finish could get dull or wear down over time. That’s why it is important to read labels and test the product. If you’re curious about whether the cleaning product you use is effective at killing coronaviruses, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a searchable database you can reference here.
What are the Best Products for Disinfecting Countertops?
Plain old rubbing alcohol is one of the most effective disinfectants around, and many cleaning products contain alcohol for that reason. It’s important for surface disinfection that the solution is 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Experts recommend letting alcohol sit on the surface for 8-10 minutes before wiping it dry, to kill all viruses, particularly coronaviruses. Alcohol evaporates rapidly, so the extra water content in 70 percent alcohol helps keep it on the surface long enough to work. It’s not recommended to dilute further because concentrations below 50 percent are not effective.
What if you can’t find rubbing alcohol or a gentle sanitizing cleaner? While bleach will cause damage over time, it won’t be immediate if diluted properly. A person might have to weigh the pros and cons of keeping the granite in top notch shape and living with the possibility of germs on the countertop or killing the germs and possibly causing damage to the finish. Stone can be resealed if needed. If using bleach to disinfect, the CDC recommends 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.
While you’re sanitizing your stone countertops, don’t forget to do the same for other “high touch” surfaces. High touch surfaces include door-knobs, refrigerator handles, cabinet knobs and handles, light switches, TV remotes, cell-phones and tablets, keyboards etc. No sense sanitizing the counter and then tossing an unsanitized cell phone on top.
Oh and of course, don’t forget to wash your hands (for 20 seconds), before and after all that work disinfecting everything. That’s the most effective preventative, according to the CDC.
We hope this helps clear up any questions you might have, and though we haven’t had to close our showroom, we understand if in-person viewings are not an option. We do offer virtual showings, via viewing our inventory on our website or even holding a Zoom or FaceTime chat with a sales representative. Give us a shout if you’d like to set up a virtual meeting!