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Safer Cleaning for COVID-19 (and Flu season)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much about our lives in such a short time. From the beginning, cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing have been stressed as the most effective ways to combat the virus.

While proper cleaning is and remains a first-line defense, it is important to understand the health benefits of seeking out and using safer cleaners and why not to “reach for the bleach” and other harmful cleaners and disinfectants!

Let’s explore further!

First, we should determine what needs to be cleaned and how often. Frequently touched surfaces should be our primary focus.In home use and where users don’t share their workspace, soap and water or general-purpose cleaners are the most effective, healthiest and least-expensive option. When soap and water are not an option, a sanitizer is an effective solution as long as use instructions are followed.

In work spaces, common-area living spaces and public places where multiple people will be touching items such as doorknobs, keyboards, tables, faucet handles, light switches, touch screens and more, disinfectants should be used, as they kill a wider range of microorganisms than soap and sanitizers.

Disinfectants should only be used according to instructions and while wearing protective equipment as directed. Examples of protective equipment are gloves, safety glasses and respirators.This is especially important when product is applied by spraying. Microfiber cloths are the most effective applicators but should be washed often.

For specific products, vetted general-purpose cleaners with safer active ingredients can be found at and

For sanitizing, a local product, Defense, is made and distributed in Walla Walla by Evergreen Labs. It is available for purchase at Andy’s Market in 8 oz. spray, or contact to purchase gallon containers.

Safer disinfectants are made with ingredients such as citric acid, hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol and lactic acid, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Understandably, many of these products are available through commercial suppliers and are typically only available in bulk.

One consumer-friendly product available locally at Super 1, Walgreens and the Dollar Store is Lysol Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner. Please note that even though a product may be labeled as a cleaner and disinfectant, one should always clean surfaces before applying the disinfectant.

Be sure to follow instructions and observe the contact time — the time the product should be wet on the surface — to ensure effectiveness.

So why all the fuss about safer cleaners?

Toxic chemicals enter our bodies via three primary pathways — ingestion, inhalation and absorption. Examples include inhaling the scent of bleach, absorbing cleaning products through our skin’s pores and ingesting chemical residues in the air. Exposure to toxins may be unpleasant, such as burning of the eyes or nausea or can happen without our knowledge.

Different toxins are associated with a variety of hazards, but common themes are that toxins, aside from potential immediate effects such as burning, stinging, inflammation, nausea and congestion, cause reproductive system issues, hormone disruption, cancer, developmental issues, nervous system problems and more.

Bleach, in particular, while a go-to cleaning product, is a dangerous corrosive that is harmful to human and environmental health. Children are especially vulnerable to bleach fumes and residues in homes where bleach is often used.Bleach use has been associated with respiratory illnesses, asthma, organ damage and allergies. Bleach is also found as an ingredient in many specific-use cleaning products such as tile cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, detergent and more.

There are safer alternatives! Rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are two examples. Baking soda and white vinegar are staples that our grandparents and great grandparents likely used effectively for years. A simple solution of equal parts white vinegar, water and a few drops of your favorite essential oil can make quick work of everyday cleaning tasks.

Beyond bleach, many other cleaning products can pose serious health risks, especially if not used as directed.

To keep yourself and your family safe, take the extra step to find and use safer cleaning products and use them as directed, including the use of protective equipment and adequate ventilation, as applicable.

By keeping a clean household, using safer cleaners, taking precautions in public spaces and exercising good judgement, we can protect ourselves and others from COVID-19, seasonal flu and the immediate and lingering effects of toxic chemicals.

For businesses and organizations, our $mart Business Partners program has produced the “Walla Walla Back to Business Safer Cleaning Guide” for easy reference to keep your customers and staff safe from toxic cleaners.

For this and more information, visit the Sustainable Living Center website at or call 509-524-5218.

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