Surface Cleaning and COVID-19: What You Should Know

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 26, 2022
4 min read

Get the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic here.

The COVID-19 virus can spread via direct contact, airborne transmission, or through droplets. There have also been a few reported cases potentially spread through surfaces. But the risk of this is very low. The chance of COVID-19 surface transmission is less than 1 in 10,000.

While updated guidelines say that surface transmission is unlikely, people are still applying disinfection protocols to sanitize surfaces in homes. Some people refer to the act of overcleaning as “hygiene theater.” This term suggests that certain sanitation practices exist more as a “show” to ease people’s minds instead of being based in science.

Coronavirus: What you Need to Know

Studies show that using household soap or detergent products lowers the number of germs on surfaces. This alone reduces the risk of infection. Guidelines now state that the use of disinfectants is unnecessary unless someone in your home is sick or someone who is positive for COVID-19 has been in your house within the last 24 hours.

It’s unlikely to catch COVID-19 from a surface, but the risk still exists. Lab studies have found that the virus may last on different materials for varying amounts of time. We don’t know if these findings always apply in the real world, but we can use them as a guideline.

Examples: doorknobs, jewelry, silverware
5-9 days

Examples: furniture, decking
4 days

Examples: milk containers and detergent bottles, subway and bus seats, elevator buttons
2 to 3 days

Stainless steel
Examples: refrigerators, pots and pans, sinks, some water bottles
2 to 3 days

Examples: shipping boxes
24 hours

Examples: pennies, teakettles, cookware
4 hours

Examples: soda cans, tinfoil, water bottles
2 to 8 hours

Examples: drinking glasses, measuring cups, mirrors, windows
Up to 5 days

Examples: dishes, pottery, mugs
5 days

Examples: mail, newspaper
The length of time varies. Some strains of coronavirus live for only a few minutes on paper, while others live for up to 5 days.

Examples: takeout, produce
Coronavirus doesn't seem to spread through food.

Coronavirus hasn't been found in drinking water. If it does get into the water supply, your local water treatment plant filters and disinfects the water, which should kill any germs.

Examples: clothes, linens
There’s not much research about how long the virus lives on fabric, but it’s probably not as long as on hard surfaces.


One study tested the shoe soles of medical staff in a Chinese hospital intensive care unit (ICU) and found that half were positive for nucleic acids from the virus. But it’s not clear whether these pieces of the virus cause infection. The hospital’s general ward, which had people with milder cases, was less contaminated than the ICU.

Skin and hair

There’s no research on exactly how long the virus can live on your skin or hair. Rhinoviruses, which cause colds, survive for hours. That’s why it’s important to wash or disinfect your hands, which are most likely to come into contact with contaminated surfaces.

Coronavirus Transmission: What You Need to Know

It’s a good idea to regularly clean your home to protect you and your family from viruses like COVID-19.

  • Clean frequently touched surfaces (like doorknobs, handles, tables, countertops, and light switches) regularly and after you have visitors in your home.
  • Clean any surface in your home when it’s noticeably dirty.
  • If people in your household are more likely to get sick from COVID-19, clean your surfaces more frequently. You may also want to use a disinfectant in this case.
  • Make sure that you use a cleaning product that is suitable for the type of surface. Follow the instructions on the product.

There are also ways that you can reduce the likelihood of surfaces becoming contaminated by COVID-19:

  • Follow guidelines for fully vaccinated people before you welcome visitors into your home.
  • Ask that people who haven’t been vaccinated wear a mask inside your home.
  • Make sure that everyone in your household washes their hands often, especially when they come back home.
  • Keep people with COVID-19 isolated from others.

If you live with someone who has COVID-19 or have had a guest with a positive case in your home within 24 hours, disinfect your house in addition to regular cleaning. This will kill any leftover germs and lower the chance of the virus spreading.

  • Read the instructions on the disinfectant first.
  • Wear gloves while disinfecting and cleaning.
  • If your disinfectant doesn’t have a cleaning agent, wash dirty areas with soap first, and then use the disinfectant.
  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap if you’re cleaning a household with a positive COVID-19 case. Always clean your hands after wearing gloves.
  • Make sure you have good ventilation while using a disinfectant.

If you’re unable to keep a separate bedroom or bathroom from the person with COVID-19, make sure they clean and disinfect shared spaces after each use. If the sick person is unable to clean, wear a mask and use gloves to clean and disinfect their area only when needed. Make sure to open windows or doors, and use fans, heating, ventilation, and air condition to get proper air circulation.

Once the person is no longer sick, it’s important to cleanse the area they stayed in. Wear a mask when you clean and disinfect. Wait as long as possible before you do this. If you’re able to wait 24 hours before you clean their area, you only need to cleanse that space, not disinfect it.

If you wait 3 days after the person in your household was sick, no extra cleaning (besides routine cleanup) is necessary.