What’s in short supply are supplies. So I asked cleaning experts for advice on making what we need with what we have at home — and to tell me how to save those precious disinfectants and paper towels for the jobs only they can do.
“The good news is that you don’t need much,” says Melissa Maker, founder of the Canadian-based housekeeping service Clean My Space.
And what you need, you likely already have or can still get. “For us, this is nothing new,” says Cristian Dantas of the Green Mop in Arlington. “We have always made our own cleaning supplies with a focus on the environment.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidance for two DIY disinfectants. One uses bleach, the other rubbing alcohol, both effective on high-touch areas: doorknobs, light switches, phones, cabinet handles, etc.
Debbie Sardone, owner of SpeedCleaning.com, follows her “Speed Cleaning Rule of Three” to make the most of DIY disinfectants.
Rule 1: Clean first, then zap. Before you grab the disinfectant, get rid of gunk, grime and crumbs with a regular cleaner or your hands. Now you can zap with a disinfectant.
Rule 2: Spray and stay. After you spray the surface, wait at least 90 seconds for that disinfectant to do its job, Sardone says. (Clorox advises two minutes on its bleach bottles.)
Rule 3: One and done. By the time you use that wipe on the third doorknob, you’re doing more harm than good. Given the waste of “one and done,” it’s another reason our experts use machine-washable microfiber cloths. Those need to be washed after each side has been used, to avoid transferring germs from surface to surface. (Both Maker and Sardone sell their own brands of microfiber cloths online.) Dantas prefers reusable microfiber shop towels, like those sold in auto-supply stores.
“Bleach is an amazing disinfectant, but you have to dilute it,” Sardone says.
The CDC bleach recipe calls for a third-cup of bleach to one gallon of water. That’s four teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.
Take that solution and pour it in a deep container. Cut a roll of paper towels or shop towels in half, pull out the cardboard and submerge both halves. If you happen to have an empty Clorox wipes container, you can use that instead of a deep container. Or you can soak the paper towels and bleach solution in a Ziploc bag, and use it as a to-go bag. Bleach loses its disinfecting power after 24 hours, so only submerge the number of paper towels you’ll use in that time period in the container. Make a new solution after 24 hours and plop another round of towels in.
Whatever container you use, be sure to label it as bleach. “Whatever you do, don’t use a water bottle — even if you don’t have kids and think you’ll remember it has bleach in it,” Sardone says. “It’s not worth the risk.”
And never mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar or any other solution. That’s especially crucial to remember if you’re repurposing empty bottles. Rinse the bottle clean with water until you see no suds from its former inhabitant, Maker says. Fill with fresh water and pump the trigger, spraying until suds-free water comes out.
Disinfectants are your big guns, so use them cautiously, wearing a mask and gloves.
There’s “not an ounce of bleach in my house,” says Maker, who prefers the CDC-approved alcohol solutions of at least 70 percent alcohol.
This concentration disqualifies even the fanciest of vodkas (40 percent), so save the booze for a Zoom happy hour. If you have 70 percent rubbing alcohol, use it straight, no water. Dilute 90 percent alcohol with just a little water.
If you have baby wipes or makeup wipes, saturate them fully with rubbing alcohol for another wipes option. Remember: You shouldn’t mix bleach with anything but water, so stick to alcohol when turning premade wipes into disinfectants. For alcohol-based wipes, Maker suggests allowing the solution to sit for three to five minutes before wiping away with another cloth.
Phones and computer keyboards are a great place to start (and end) the day with a disinfectant wipe. We’re working, socializing, exercising and learning through our screens and machines, so treat them to frequent wipedowns, Maker says. (Do take care with touch screens, though, which could be damaged.)
Everyday cleaners won’t disinfect, but they will lift and remove dirt and grease.
“Basic dish soap and water is a very effective cleaner for the majority of things in your house,” Maker says. “Soap is designed to lift dirt and grease — fingerprints, footprints, jam, whatever your cat threw up on a hard surface. Soap and water can take pretty much whatever you throw at it.”
Maker’s blend: Two cups of water, a half-teaspoon dish soap and an optional couple drops of essential oils to customize the smell. She sprays this on bathroom surfaces, granite kitchen counters and tables.
For glass, use vinegar mixed with water in equal parts. Newspapers stacking up? Color-free pages can stand in for paper towels, Dantas says.
For floors, he uses a solution of 70 percent water and 30 percent vinegar. Don’t have a mop or Swiffer? Grab a rag and do some core work on the floor! Tear up some old T-shirts after you’ve reorganized your drawers and make it a Throwback Thursday kind of cleaning fest.
Got a shower head in need of its own bath? Soak it in vinegar for 30 minutes, Dantas says. Scrub it down with an old toothbrush.
Not a fan of vinegar? Sardone uses distilled water as her everyday cleaner.
Need abrasion for grime, stubborn pots and pans, or soap scum? Behold the humble baking soda. “You can’t find yeast, can’t find flour, but you can find baking soda — and it’s inexpensive!” Maker says.
To blend with water, add a tiny amount of soda until you have a thin paste.
If you don’t get enough grit, add more baking soda, Maker says. The mix doesn’t keep well, so just mix just enough for the chore at hand.
To clean his grill, Dantas uses three tablespoons of baking soda and a half-cup of warm water. “It’s the fiercest thing we have to just get in there and scrub,” Dantas says.
That fridge looking a little worse for all its sudden, unprecedented wear? Dantas uses olive oil or baby oil on greasy stainless steel appliances. Wipe down any excess dirt with water, and put a few drops of oil on a microfiber cloth for the first coat. Another wipe with a clean microfiber cloth will get rid of any oily residue.
Kitchen table/schoolroom/work desk need some love? Dantas recommends a few drops of olive oil and lemon juice on a microfiber cloth or rag to give furniture an extra shine.
“There are all kinds of hacks and plenty of time to try them out,” he says.
This story has been updated to include information about the length of diluted bleach’s efficacy as a disinfectant.