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Running out for groceries, to the post office or to the drugstore are still necessary parts of our lives, but now those errands make us all too aware of the ungodly number of germs we’re potentially tracking back into our houses. Even if you’re not going out all that often, knowing how to sanitize your home is the kind of skill we should all be armed with—because those no-contact deliveries being dropped at your door (we’ll get to these soon) aren’t exactly exempt. Here’s what to do.

KNOW THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CLEANING, DISINFECTING AND SANITIZING

We thought the terms “cleaning” and “disinfecting” were basically one and the same—but there’s a distinct difference that’s worth noting.

Cleaning, as it turns out, “refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces,” according to the CDC. It doesn’t mean that those germs are being killed, but instead, cleaning is when we remove some of the germs and lessen the risk of spreading infection. To clean something, use soap and water with a sponge, scrub brush or paper towels, whatever you prefer. It’s that simple!

Disinfecting, on the other hand, refers to when chemicals are used to kill germs. The CDC says if anything that needs disinfecting is in any way dirty—meaning it’s greasy or dusty or was made dirty by, well, dirt—it first has to be cleaned, otherwise the disinfectant won’t be able to cut through it all to kill germs. The EPA has a list of disinfectants it recommends, and plenty of the brands we already know and trust made the cut, like Lysol, Clorox and Purell.

To disinfect something after it’s been cleaned, follow the instructions on the packaging, which may say to let something air-dry, or to wait a few minutes before wiping something dry or to rub it off with a wet cloth. Whatever the bottle says, do.

Sanitizing is when something has first been cleaned and then disinfected. Et voilà!

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Justin Paget/Getty Images

How to sanitize your home

All the surfaces, appliances, pieces of furniture, toys and various articles of clothing your family has been living in and on for the past few weeks—like those leggings you’ve worn every day (us, too!)—can be sanitized in many of the same ways. If you have them, the CDC wants you to wear disposable or reusable gloves while you go about cleaning and disinfecting everything you own. If this isn’t possible, try to keep whatever you’re cleaning with—paper towels, cloths, etc.—between the chemicals and your skin, and wash your hands well and often. Now let’s get to it.

1. Start with high-volume touch points

Think about the crazy number of things you own. Feeling overwhelmed about cleaning them all? Don’t be, because only the ones that are touched often and by multiple people in your house need to be sanitized.

Things we touch daily include...

- Doorknobs and locks

- Remotes

- Keys

- Shared computers

- Dining chairs

- Touch screens

- Light switches

- Toilet seats and handles

- Faucets

- Refrigerator doors

- Counters and tabletops

This is just a preliminary list that the CDC says to consider, but you know your home and your family; they’re who you should have in mind when making your own checklist.

  1. First, clean each with soap and water by using any of the methods mentioned above. Make sure they’re free of any debris or grime before moving on.
  2. Disinfecting with a spray or wipe made for this very task is the easiest way to get this step done. Follow the instructions of the brand you’re using to know you’ve been thorough.

Psst: If You Don't Have Disinfectant on Hand, Try This

We know that finding any brand of disinfectant is hard right now. If you have bleach at home, the CDC says you can make your own disinfectant by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per gallon of water, but this should be made and used in a well-ventilated space, so please, crack all your windows. Disinfecting is also not the only way to protect your family from germs and viruses. You can repeat the cleaning step a second time and scrub those high-touch surfaces like you would your hands to make sure they’re clean. It’s not perfect, but it’s still efficient.

2. Wipe down mail and packages

Everything that makes its way to your front door has been touched by many other people along its journey. Those people are all doing their best to wear gloves and masks and are following protocol laid out by the USPS, but the agency says that the coronavirus and other germs can live on packaging materials for up to 24 hours. To make sure they’re safe in your house, wipe them down with a disinfecting wipe or spray the whole thing with an aerosol disinfectant. And throw out the box and wash your hands after handling it all ASAP.

3. Ditto for groceries

The FDA says you can breathe easy when it comes to your food. The agency says on its preparedness site, “There is no evidence to suggest that food produced in the United States or imported from countries affected by COVID-19 can transmit COVID-19.” That being said, if you’re worried about how many hands may have touched that carton of milk you just brought home, it’s not going to do anyone any harm to give it a once-over with a disinfecting wipe.

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Commercial Eye/Getty Images

4. Wash your hamper—not just your clothes

All of your laundry should be done the same way you’re used to. The only difference in how you go about it now is the heat setting on your dryer, bumping it up from warm to hot (if your clothes can handle it). The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting your hamper if you’re worried about the virus being on your clothes.

5. Disinfect sofas, chairs and other plush furniture

If any of your couches or chairs have machine-washable slipcovers, be sure to toss them in with your laundry every week. Otherwise, the upholstery fabric can most likely handle the spray of an aerosol disinfectant. Read the label on the bottle to be sure that it’s safe for your couch and do a test spot on the back or underneath where people can’t see if it reacts badly. After that spot has dried and you can clearly see that no damage has been done (phew!), go ahead and spray down the whole thing.

Be sure to read the whole label to see if you should resist curling up on your just-spritzed chair until after it dries—this might be an important step in the disinfecting process.

6. Spritz rugs, carpets and other flooring

The same spray-disinfecting process you just used on your sofa can work on your carpets and area rugs, but if you happen to have a vacuum that doubles as a steam cleaner, now is the time to put that function to use.

For tile and hardwood floors, it’s best to first go over them with a broom or vacuum to be sure you’ve picked up any pet hair. Then you can mop them with soap and water, or use a Swiffer with a wet wipe attached to clean things up. Again, read the labels on your liquid disinfectants to see if they’re safe for tile or hardwood floors, and if you’re not sure, do another spot test somewhere discreet. If this works out, feel free to unscrew the bottle and use the liquid on your floors, but be sure to follow the brand’s instructions. If it says to wipe down whatever you’re disinfecting with water, do it.

7. Wipe down household electronics

Your cellphones, laptops, iPads, TVs and other touch screens that you constantly have your hands on can all—for the most part—be cleaned and disinfected with an alcohol-based wipe. Sprays can also be used, but you should check with the manufacturer’s recommendation before taking a liquid straight to a piece of tech. The CDC says that cleaning these often shouldn’t harm your expensive devices, but be sure not to allow any liquids to pool on their surfaces or for them to stay wet longer than necessary.

We know a ton of information is being thrown at you from all angles right now, and everyone from your mom to the produce guy at the grocery store is telling you to stay home. This isn’t always possible, or realistic, so knowing how to take care of yourself is key: Carry hand sanitizer, wash your hands often and as soon as possible, stop touching your face, cough into the crook of your arm and stay away from people outside your home. Add this cleaning breakdown to the list of things you can control and take a deep breath. Woosah.

RELATED: How Long Should You Wash Your Hands? Hot or Cold Water? All of Your Questions, Answered

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