Common Household Products That Can Kill the Coronavirus

When it comes to housecleaning, here's how to tackle the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

woman cleaning a metal door handle

Justin Paget / Getty Images 

These are strange times, and when times are strange, the internet does what it is so uniquely good at: It spreads a lot of misinformation.

Since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic began, many baseless ideas about how to kill coronavirus have spread – some of them so dangerous that we’re not even going to repeat them here. Suffice it to say, people are panicking and hungry for ways to protect themselves. Fair enough. But we thought it would be prudent to take a look at some of the things proven to be effective for destroying the new coronavirus at home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research suggests the virus is quite hardy. It can survive for hours to days on many different types of surfaces. The best way to prevent being infected by COVID-19, or any other viral respiratory illness, is to clean adequately at home and in public settings.

The CDC advises cleaning visibly filthy surfaces and then disinfecting in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses at home and in community settings.

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency tells us that coronaviruses are some of the easiest types of viruses to kill. “It has an envelope around it that allows it to merge with other cells to infect them,” Stephen Thomas, M.D., chief of infectious diseases at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, tells Consumer Reports. “If you disrupt that coating, the virus can’t do its job.”

The difference between cleaning and disinfecting

  • Cleaning is the removal of germs and dirt from a surface. It does not kill germs, but removing them depletes their numbers and thus lowers the risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting means using chemicals to kill germs on a surface. Unlike cleaning, disinfecting does not remove dirt or germs.

By cleaning first and then disinfecting, the risk of spreading infection can be lowered. Surfaces should be cleaned using detergent or soap and water – and allowed to dry for at least 10 minutes – prior to disinfecting.

General tips for cleaning and disinfecting households

If anyone is coming in and out of the house, routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces is warranted, these include tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, et cetera. The CDC recommends household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface. Be sure to read and follow instructions for safe and effective use, and pay heed to those instructions, for example, wearing gloves and making sure there is sufficient ventilation.

If your household is home to someone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, please see cleaning instructions included in the CDC's recommended precautions for household members, intimate partners, and caregivers.

Products that can kill the coronavirus

Soap and water

Hand sanitizer could practically be a new form of currency at this point, but do not overlook the wonders of good old soap.

Perry Santanachote writes in Consumer Reports that the action of scrubbing with soap and water can break that aforementioned protective envelope. “Scrub like you’ve got sticky stuff on the surface and you really need to get it off,” says retired organic chemist Richard Sachleben.

Isopropyl alcohol

The CDC notes that alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol should be effective against coronavirus on surfaces. Follow the product's label directions, including the contact time (the amount of time the surface should be visibly wet). The EPA's list of approved commercial disinfectants includes contact time.

But NOT vodka
Despite what some are suggesting, an 80-proof product is only 40 percent ethyl alcohol, compared with the 70 percent required to kill the coronavirus.

And NOT distilled white vinegar
While vinegar may be a TreeHugger favorite, there is no evidence that it is effective in killing the coronavirus.

Hydrogen peroxide

Santanachote reports that as per the CDC, household hydrogen peroxide (3 percent) can kill rhinovirus (the dreaded virus that causes the common cold). “Rhinovirus is more difficult to destroy than coronaviruses, so hydrogen peroxide should be able to break down coronavirus in less time,” he writes, recommending that it can be poured undiluted in a spray bottle and used from there; just be sure to let it sit on the surface for one minute before wiping. It should be OK on metal surfaces, but can discolor fabric.

“It’s great for getting into hard-to-reach crevices,” Sachleben says. “You can pour it on the area and you don’t have to wipe it off because it essentially decomposes into oxygen and water.”

Common commercial disinfectants

The CDC publishes a list of EPA-approved products for use against emerging viral pathogens. All the products on the list, known as List N, should be effective against COVID-19. The EPA has confidence that all products on List N to effectively kill SARS-CoV-2 because each has demonstrated efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 itself, a similar human coronavirus, or a harder-to-kill pathogen.

Some of these look pretty intense and would be my last resort, but then again, I am not living in a household with someone who is infected. As always, use caution and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.


You may have a no-bleach household, like many of us TreeHuggers, but if there were a time to break the no-bleach rules, this might be it for some. According to the CDC, as long as your standard household bleach isn't expired, you can dilute and use it as a cleaning agent against coronaviruses with success.

As per CDC instructions, make a bleach solution by mixing five tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or four teaspoons bleach per quart of water. Keep in mind:

  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation.
  • Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date.
  • Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleaner.
  • Do not keep the solution for longer than a day.

Precautions when using bleach

The federally funded clinical and educational center, Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at UC San Francisco, has a great information sheet on using bleach. Among other things, they note:

  • Bleach can irritate the skin and eyes.
  • Exposure to bleach can make asthma worse in people who already have asthma.
  • Mixing bleach with other chemicals containing ammonia, quaternary ammonium compounds (found in other disinfectants), vinegar or other acids can create a toxic gas.
  • Bleach corrodes many metals. It should never be used on stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass, marble, or granite.
  • Bleach is neutralized by dirt and other organic material, so it isn’t very effective when used on a surface that hasn’t been cleaned.

A note on wearing gloves

And lastly, make sure you are following good glove protocol. The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and to discard them after each cleaning. But since disposable things break our TreeHugger hearts, we will also note that the CDC gives advice for reusable gloves, recommending that a set of such gloves should be used strictly for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces for COVID-19. Don't reuse worn gloves for other purposes and always remember to clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.