Cleaning High-Touch Surfaces Like a Pro

    We all want to keep our homes and workplaces clean and healthy. But some of the most at-risk locations are the most commonly ignored during routine cleaning. In this post, we’ll explain the dangers of high-touch surfaces, and what you can do to keep your home and workplace safe from hidden hazards.

    What are high-touch surfaces?

    A high-touch surface is any area that lots of people touch with their bare hands. Examples include door handles, stair rails, and light switches. We’re more at risk of contracting diseases from these areas because germs can quickly and easily pass from person to person.

    An object or material that can transmit diseases through this method is called a fomite. Some surfaces are more likely to become fomites than others, depending on the material they’re made out of and the disease in question.

    High-touch surfaces and COVID-19

    The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. Early into the pandemic, scientists weren’t sure how the virus was transmitted, and one of the key areas of study was fomites. An outbreak in an apartment building in Guangzhou, China, was traced back to a contaminated elevator button. It is one of the first and best-documented cases of fomite transmission of the virus.

    Pro Tip: How to kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces

    Infection risk by surface

    Not all surfaces provide a good home for viruses and bacteria. Copper, for example, is naturally antibacterial. Not a lot survives on it for longer than a few hours. However, a damp sponge provides a prime breeding ground for lots of different microbes.

    One study published by the New England Journal of Medicine examined how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus could survive on different surfaces.

    Stainless steel

    The World Health Organization was concerned about the results of studies into COVID-19 surviving on fomites. In February 2020 they issued a report confirming that the virus could be transmitted by objects.

    However as the virus spread around the world, better contact tracing suggested that fomite transmission, although possible, was highly unlikely. By May 2020, the CDC had revised its guidelines to state that surface transmission is “not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads.”

    Detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA on surfaces

    RNA is a type of acid found in all living cells. In viruses, it’s often RNA, not DNA, that carries genetic information. When researchers test for SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces, it’s usually the RNA they’re testing for.

    One study in Massachusetts sampled common public surfaces between April-June 2020. Just 8.3% tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA. These surfaces included crosswalk buttons, trash can handles, and business door handles. The researchers concluded that the chances of contracting COVID-19 from fomites were less than 5 in 10,000.

    Pro Tip: Another key test is for ATP. Learn more about using ATP bacteria meters to measure cleanliness on any surface!

      High-touch areas in business locations 

      Although the risk of contracting COVID-19 from fomites is low, it isn’t impossible. In addition, other diseases can also be transmitted through high-touch surfaces. Cold sores, hand, foot and mouth disease, and diarrhea are all caused by germs that can survive and spread on high-touch surfaces. That means it’s worth paying attention to the everyday objects you touch while out in public.

      Pro Tip: Learn why your business should be surface testing for COVID-19

      Common High-touch surfaces in offices include:

      • Desktops
      • Computer mice, trackpads, keyboards
      • Chair arms and backs
      • Lunchroom coffee machine and microwave 
      • Telephone headsets and buttons
      • Copier lid and control panel
      • File cabinet drawer pulls

      It’s important for these surfaces to be regularly disinfected by cleaning services. But if you’re visiting or working in a business location, you should also pay attention to what you touch. Washing your hands regularly with ordinary soap and water is enough to kill most viruses and bacteria. If you can’t access soap and water, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a good substitute.

      High-touch surfaces in schools

      Kids are notoriously unsanitary in their habits, and that makes schools breeding grounds for many diseases. Some common high-touch surfaces include:

      • Drinking fountains
      • Desks, chairs and computers
      • Bus handles and seatbacks
      • Chairs
      • Hands-on learning aids 

      School janitorial services should pay extra attention to these areas, even without a pandemic. However students and teachers can also do their part to minimize the spread of diseases. They can do this by being mindful of what they touch, and frequently washing their hands.

      High-touch surfaces in hospitals

      Hospitals are usually more aware of the dangers of fomites than the average place of business. However there are often more — and more dangerous — viruses and bacteria circulating inside hospitals. For that reason, extra care needs to be taken in these locations.

      Examples of high-touch areas include:

      • Bed rails and frames
      • Moveable lamps and stands
      • Tray tables
      • Bedside tables and chairs
      • Blood pressure cuffs 

      Many hospitals have strict cleaning protocols. These are designed to prevent high-touch areas from posing a risk to patients or staff. But as with any other location, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands regularly while inside a hospital.

      Pro Tip: Learn more about the benefits of hospital-grade air filtration and monitoring for COVID-19

      CDC guidelines for high-touch surfaces

      The CDC recommends cleaning business facilities at least once per day, or more often if deemed necessary. This should include identifying and cleaning high-touch surfaces. If somebody with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 has been inside the space, it should be cleaned and disinfected more often.

      CDC guidelines for essential workers

      Essential workers are people who perform services “essential to ensure the continuity of critical functions in the United States (U.S.).” That encompasses a wide range of services, from doctors, nurses, and emergency personnel, to people working in the food service, manufacturing, and transportation industries.

      Essential workers should wash their hands regularly, and pay attention to specific guidance issued by their place of work.

      CDC guidelines for returning to work

      The CDC has issued a number of guidelines to help employers transition workers back to the office. These include mask and vaccine policies, as well as information about cleaning, disinfecting, and managing high-touch surfaces.

      High-touch surfaces at home

      While the biggest risk of contracting new viruses comes from outside the home, that doesn’t mean your house doesn’t have high-touch surfaces too. Paying attention to these while cleaning not only makes your home a cleaner place to be, it can also help prevent one family member from spreading sickness to the rest of the household.

      Common high-touch surfaces at home include:

      • Light switches
      • TV remotes
      • Tabletops
      • Door and appliance handles
      • Faucets
      • Play areas

      An all-purpose household cleaner is usually sufficient to keep your home free from bacteria. However if a member of the family is sick, consider switching to a disinfectant from List N. This is the EPA’s list of products proven to be effective against the novel coronavirus.

      How to clean high-touch surfaces

      The CDC guidelines for high-touch surfaces recommend using soapy water or detergent for regular daily cleaning. Use a microfiber cloth to apply a small amount of cleaning solution, and wash it away with clean water. Avoid using antibacterial or antimicrobial products all the time, because this can encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

      Pro Tip: Everything you need to know about toxic vs. non-toxic cleaning products

      If somebody in your home has tested positive for COVID-19 or has contracted another communicable disease, then switch to disinfectant products to clean high-touch surfaces until a day or two after their sickness has passed. This reduces the chances of them spreading the disease to other members of the household.

      High-touch surface checklist

      Door handles and push plates
      Spray cleaning solution directly onto the handle or push plate. Use a clean microfiber cloth to remove excess.
      Light switches
      Spray a small amount of cleaning solution onto a microfiber cloth and use it to wipe all parts of the switch plate. Use a clean, dry cloth to remove excess.
      TV remotes
      Remove batteries. Moisten a cloth with a cleaning solution and rub thoroughly across all the buttons and surfaces. Dry the remote completely before reinserting batteries.
      Computer mice, keyboards, trackpads
      Unplug and turn off all parts. Use a lint-free cloth or cotton swab to apply a little rubbing alcohol. Dry thoroughly before turning anything back on.
      Desks, chairs, and tables
      Spray with an appropriate cleaning solution and use a microfiber cloth to remove any excess.
      Spray with an appropriate cleaning solution and use a microfiber cloth to remove any excess.
      Children’s toys
      Always check the label of cleaning products to ensure they are safe for food prep areas. Clean the toys according to the instructions on the product label, and wash with clean water to remove the remaining product.

      Final thoughts

      High-touch surfaces can be tricky to clean, and often get overlooked during everyday cleaning. However, in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission, it’s important both at work and at home to pay attention to potential high-touch surfaces and include them in a regular cleaning routine.

      Although the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from any surface is very low, there have been documented cases of fomite transmission. Other diseases are also transmissible through high-touch surfaces so keeping them clean is important even outside of a pandemic.

      Avoid using antibacterial or antimicrobial products on every surface all the time. This just encourages the growth of highly resistant bacteria that can be even more dangerous to human health. Regular soap and water, or all-purpose household cleaners, are usually more than sufficient to clean viruses from surfaces, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

      You should also stick to regular soap and water when washing your hands. Not only is this better for your skin, but soap is more effective than hand sanitizer at killing viruses. Again, you don’t need to use antibacterial soap. Any regular soap will have the same effect, and won’t contribute to the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.