Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Support quality journalism
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
The Globe and Mail
Support quality journalism
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Globe and Mail website displayed on various devices
Just$1.99
per week
for the first 24weeks

var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){console.log("scroll");var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1);

A worker disinfects a subway station in New York City on March 4, 2020.

EDUARDO MUNOZ/Reuters

Health officials have not yet documented the transmission of the new coronavirus from contaminated surfaces, but because they think it spreads through droplets, they’re encouraging people to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs and faucets.

Practising good hand hygiene, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, and cleaning and disinfecting oft-handled items “are the most important ways that you can protect yourself and your family from respiratory illness, including COVID-19,” according to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.

But which surfaces should you pay attention to most? And how should you clean and disinfect for the virus? Here’s a guide:

Story continues below advertisement

How long can the coronavirus survive outside the body?

In a controlled laboratory environment, coronaviruses can live for a few hours or up to a day on a surface. But when they are shed out of people’s noses or mouths, the organic load – in other words, “snot” – can help preserve them a little longer, about a couple of days to a maximum of five, says Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code and The Germ Files.

So far, the evidence suggests the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can survive for hours to days on a variety of surfaces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It says, however, that transmission of coronaviruses is more common through respiratory droplets than contaminated objects or materials, and that the latter route of transmission has not been documented for the new virus.

Mr. Tetro explains this has to do with its minimal infectious dose. That is, you need to introduce a certain amount of the virus into the body for it to gain hold and start an infection.

“Perhaps there’s not enough of the virus that’s coming out of somebody, and coming onto a surface for somebody [else] to touch it, pick it up and reinoculate themselves,” he says, though he cautions it’s still not known what the minimal infectious dose of the new virus is.

How do you get rid of the virus?

Story continues below advertisement

Coronaviruses, much like flu viruses, are called “enveloped,” which means they have a shell made of lipids or fats, Mr. Tetro says. Thus, any surfactant, such as regular soap or a household product that breaks up fat, will be effective against the new virus.

For households, the CDC says people should wear disposable gloves, which should be thrown out after each use, to routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as tables and light switches. They should also wash their hands immediately after removing the gloves.

Dirty surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water before disinfecting them, the CDC advises. For disinfection, it says diluted household bleach, solutions with at least 70 per cent alcohol, and household disinfectants registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should be effective. (For bleach, use five tablespoons for every four litres of water.)

Disposable gloves should also be used when handling laundry of anyone ill, the CDC says. To minimize the possibility of spreading the virus by air, avoid shaking out dirty laundry, it says. Launder items according to manufacturers’ instructions, using the warmest water settings possible and dry completely. And clean and disinfect clothes hampers, it says.

What can I do about COVID-19? A guide for Canadians of what’s helpful, and what’s not

Coronavirus guide: The latest news on COVID-19 and the toll it’s taking around the world

How can you navigate germy surfaces in public?

Many buildings now are designed to reduce the need for people to touch surfaces, with elements like automatic doors, door-less entries to washrooms, and automatic taps and towel dispensers, says Stephen Hoption Cann, an epidemiologist and clinical professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health.

Story continues below advertisement

If you can’t avoid contact, though, try not to use your hands. Instead, you can use a sleeve of your coat or a paper towel to open doors or push elevator buttons, he suggests.

Your likelihood of getting sick from touching a public surface or object can vary, Mr. Tetro says. Items like cafeteria trays or tables can be more risky, since they are touched by numerous people and are handled more than just fleetingly, he says. By comparison, the hand rails of the stairs to a subway station may be touched by just as many people, but not likely long enough to spread a lot of germs.

Regardless, it’s best to frequently wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, as instructed by health officials. Until more is known about the new coronavirus, it’s impossible to say you won’t get it from touching surfaces, Mr. Tetro says.

Health Canada recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using regular soap and warm water, and wiping them dry.

When using hand sanitizer, Mr. Tetro says you should cover your hands so that they are wet for a minimum of 15 seconds.

Have you ever been tested for coronavirus in Canada, or have you tried to be tested? Email wleung@globeandmail.com

Story continues below advertisement

Editor’s note: (March 10, 2020): A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jason Tetro as a visiting scientist at the University of Guelph.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies