Health & Fitness

Everything You Need to Know About Disinfecting Your Kitchen

You know how to clean your kitchen – but do you know how to thoroughly disinfect it? We’ve got your guide to eliminating virus-causing bacteria and getting rid of germs hiding on your kitchen’s surfaces.

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It’s no secret that your kitchen requires a lot of regular cleaning. It’s where you’re working with raw meat, dirty veggies, messy and splatter-prone recipes, and plenty of crumbs and debris. While you’re likely already wiping down countertops and cleaning your stove regularly, there’s likely still some pretty gross stuff lurking in your kitchen. That’s why cleaning isn’t enough – you’ve also got to disinfect your kitchen regularly.

Sure, your everyday cleaning products might promise to kill germs and stop bacteria from spreading. But the truth is disinfecting your kitchen is the only way to get rid of potential viruses and other illness-causing bacteria. Find out why disinfecting is a must, and how your disinfecting routine should differ from your usual cleanup.

What’s the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning and disinfecting sound pretty similar, but they’re dramatically different.

When you clean your kitchen, you’re literally cleaning up messes. You’re getting rid of stains, wiping away debris and messes, and eliminating smudges and sticky residue. Essentially, cleaning is getting rid of dirt. The end goal is to make your kitchen shine and look its best.

Disinfecting, on the other hand, goes deeper. As the CDC explains, while you’re often able to remove a good number of virus particles when you clean, disinfecting kills any viruses, germs and bacteria left behind on surfaces. It’s a more targeted kind of cleaning that stops these hidden dangers from spreading or infecting by killing them on the spot wherever they’re applied.

Cleaning and disinfecting go hand in hand. You’ve got to clean first in order to get rid of dirt and grime, then follow up with disinfectant to kill any germs and viruses that might still be hanging out. Additionally, disinfectants can become less effective if they’re fighting dirt, debris and residue – so you can think of disinfecting as the final step in your cleaning routine. 

Disinfecting is important year-round – and especially critical during cold and flu season

Disinfecting became a hot topic during the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s a practice that’s important even when you aren’t facing a serious outbreak of illness. It’s something you’ll want to do regularly, especially if you’re hoping to keep your household healthy.

When you disinfect your kitchen, you’re eliminating bacteria, germs and viruses from all kinds of sources. Disinfecting can kill cold and flu viruses; it can also stop the spread of illness-causing bacteria from raw meat. That’s why it’s important to disinfect your kitchen both during prime cold and flu season as well as when there’s seemingly no ailments to worry about.

Whether you’re worried about foodborne bacteria or cold spreading throughout your home, disinfecting can help. Pathogens can survive on surfaces for anywhere from hours to days, all year long. So, while you definitely want to disinfect your kitchen when someone in your house is sick, you’ll also want to disinfect regularly, just in case you’ve got germs hanging out on your surfaces.

How often should you disinfect your kitchen?

So, what’s the right frequency for disinfecting? In general (and pandemics aside), it’s a good idea to disinfect on a regular schedule. 

The CDC recommends disinfecting high-touch surfaces, like the handles of your fridge and microwave, your kitchen sink, and tables and countertops, on a daily basis. Other items can be disinfected less frequently, about once a week.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’re touching a surface or item constantly, disinfect it each day.

And don’t forget about unusual circumstances or accidents. You’ll want to break out your cleaning products and your disinfectant more frequently if you’re dealing with spills, potential cross-contamination while you’re cooking or other messes that could contain bacteria or other pathogens.

What products are best for disinfecting your kitchen?

Plenty of cleaning products promise to disinfect surfaces and get rid of bacteria, viruses and more. But these products aren’t all true disinfectants. So, how can you tell which are actually suitable for disinfecting your kitchen and which are better for everyday cleaning?

The EPA has a handy set of lists that’ll help you identify disinfectants. All of the products on these lists are antimicrobial and registered by the EPA as effective against common pathogens.You can even choose your disinfectant based on the kinds of pathogens you’re trying to fight, like norovirus and different strains of flus. 

Additionally, when you’re at the store choosing a new disinfectant, look for an EPA registration number on products’ labels. All EPA-registered disinfectants will have a registration number, one that features a company number and a product number in this format: 123-45.

And if you’re unsure what disinfectant to use, there are two standbys you can always turn to: bleach and alcohol. The CDC recommends bleach solutions and cleaners made with at least 70 percent alcohol for disinfecting.

Will natural cleaners work as disinfectants?

Natural cleaners are a fantastic alternative to chemical-laden versions – but unfortunately, when it comes to disinfecting, natural cleaners simply aren’t as strong.

A product can only be labeled a disinfectant if it meets the EPA’s requirements for sanitizing or disinfecting. And that means a cleaning product has to be able to kill over 99 percent of bacteria or viruses once it’s applied to a surface or item (and remember, those products will all carry EPA registration labels). 

So, most natural products don’t make the cut. However, those with bacteria- and virus-killing ingredients, like undiluted hydrogen peroxide, may meet EPA standards. You’ll want to check the EPA’s registered products lists to be certain.

Additionally, homemade natural cleaners like vinegar, tea tree oil or baking soda are merely cleaning solutions. They aren’t disinfectants. While some of these ingredients, like vinegar, can potentially kill germs, it takes them too long to work – meaning they can’t meet the EPA’s standards. 

How to disinfect your kitchen

Now that you know the basics of disinfecting, here’s how you can tackle your kitchen and effectively fight germs, bacteria and viruses.

Clean everything normally

Like we mentioned above, cleaning and disinfecting go hand in hand. The first step in your disinfecting routine should be to clean your kitchen as you normally would. Wipe down counters, scrub your sink, get rid of gunk that’s stuck on your stove – give everything a good cleaning, all the way down to your floors.

You can use either a basic cleaning solution (including natural and DIY cleaning products) or a disinfectant for your whole-kitchen clean. However, if you use a disinfectant, you’ll want to keep it out for the next step.

Apply your disinfectant

Once your cleaning process is complete, choose your preferred disinfectant. Read all of the instructions and labels (you don’t want to accidentally create a toxic gas by mixing products!) before you start spraying or wiping. Some products can simply be applied and wiped away; others may need to be rinsed off once applied.

Then, once you know how to use your disinfectant, apply it everywhere. Focus on high-touch surfaces first, as these are prime areas for bacteria and other pathogens to hang out. Cover your doorknobs, cabinet pulls, handles, faucets – if you touch it or put food on it, disinfect it.

Let your disinfectant sit for a few minutes

If you’ve ever wiped down your kitchen counter with a disposable disinfectant wipe and then immediately assumed your countertop was good to go, here’s some shocking news. Most disinfectants have to sit on surfaces for about 5 minutes before they actually sanitize them.

So, before you immediately dive in and start wiping up or rinsing away the disinfectant you just applied everywhere, stop. (This is where reading those instructions comes in handy!)

Wait a few minutes before you use or rinse anything in your kitchen. Disinfectants typically need to sit for about 10 minutes to fully kill off germs, bacteria and viruses. However, disposable disinfectant wipes can finish the job in about 4 minutes (just check your tub of wipes for the proper time).

After the recommended time is up, you’re free to wipe down all of your kitchen surfaces again if they need drying. Or, rinse them if your disinfectant requires that.

Quick tips to keep in mind

When you’re working with disinfectants, remember that you are using some pretty potent liquids. Since most of these cleaning-and-germ-killing products are made with ingredients like bleach, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, you’ll want to keep these tips in mind to ensure you’re disinfecting without any hidden dangers.

  • Before you use a disinfectant for the first time, test it out in a small area to make sure it won’t ruin the surface you’ll be using it on
  • Open a window (or a few) and ventilate the space you’re working in so you aren’t working in a cloud of fumes
  • You may need to dilute your disinfectant; check the product label to see how to do so properly, without lowering the solution’s effectiveness
  • Don’t mix disinfectants together, as their chemicals can react in dangerous ways
  • Always check expiration dates on disinfectants

And don’t forget – disinfecting is always best and most effective when done in combination with a good cleaning. For more tips on mastering cleaning both in and out of your kitchen, keep reading: