Today@Sam Article

Coronavirus & Cleaning: Chemistry Prof. Weighs In

April 2, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

COVID-19 has only been around for a short time, so what we know on the issue tends to change quickly with more being learned every day. For example, recent studies have investigated how long coronaviruses survive on different surfaces. Research has demonstrated that virus particles can last for days rather than hours or minutes on a surface, which poses the question - how good are common household cleaning products at combating the virus?

willaims in the labSam Houston State University professor of physical chemistry, Darren Williams, oversees the Cleaning Research Group at SHSU. His team is comprised of graduate and undergraduate student researchers who study the techniques, chemicals and equipment that industry uses to clean high-value parts. If the EPA restricts the use of certain solvents, his group is typically funded to study alternatives and make recommendations to the industry.

Today@Sam recently spoke with Williams (remotely, of course) to learn more on cleaning to avoid the virus.

T@S: Are there specific household cleaning products that are best for killing COVID-19?

Williams: The specific products best for killing COVID-19 depend upon what you are cleaning. If you are cleaning your body, then soapy water is absolutely the best. The virus is only stable inside its tiny little oil layer. Soapy water removes this protective oil layer and the virus falls apart. If you are cleaning surfaces, the same thinking applies. Any standard kitchen surface cleaner will contain surfactants that disrupt and destroy this virus. If they contain a bit of bleach, then they will destroy bacteria as well.

T@S: What are some of the cleaning myths you’ve heard related to COVID-19?

Williams: By far, the most dangerous and deadly myth related to coronavirus is the FALSE idea that “if it kills coronavirus on doorknobs and countertops, then it is good to use on my hair, face, hands, in my nose, and down my throat.” When it comes to chemicals, the toxin is the dose. A small amount of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) in hand sanitizer is useful for killing bacteria and viruses on your hands, but you cannot bathe your body in it. It will make you sick in that large of a dose. Bleach and ammonia should never be used for skin contact as they will actually destroy the layers of dead skin cells that protect your body from the outside world.  Other myths debunked are found here.

T@S: How does the cleaning products industry prevent companies from making false claims that their disinfectants work against COVID-19?

Williams: Most large companies are worried about making false claims because the market is so competitive. Lying about your product will eventually backfire. Where I find the most suspect information is among the “all-natural” subculture. Claims that garlic or sesame oil (or some other natural remedy) will prevent infection by COVID-19 are evaluated by the WHO and can be found online here. Just because something is all-natural does not mean that it is non-toxic. Arsenic is all natural. Ricin is all natural. Botox is all natural, and as mentioned before, with chemicals, the toxin is the dose. A little Botox will paralyze the nerves that make crows feet around your eyelids. A lot of Botox will kill you.

T@S: How can we be on the lookout for these false claims when buying products?

Williams: The CDC and WHO have been very proactive in evaluating claims and providing good information to the public. I trust these sites.


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