How to Keep House During a Pandemic: Sanity v Sanitization

When this began, we had on hand the following:  two bottles of bleach, six bottles of white vinegar, four bottles of Murphys Oil Soap, rags, spray bottles, and half a refill bottle of hand soap. We also had about eight rolls of paper towels, a package of napkins, and lots of rags.

After week one, I did a deep dive into the cupboards under our two sinks and found two containers of generic Clorox wipes that are still moist (dare I say?), two containers of baby wipes we bought to use on pets, and another soap refill. We also dug out all of our bars of soap and shower products that had accumulated – the bottle we take on vacation, the scented items we don’t love, the samples, etc.

Our cleaning philosophy is to focus on washing our hands with soap and water A LOT. We have some hand sanitizer that we use sparingly, conserving it for when we are in the car or otherwise away from running water. We also focus on routine cleaning in the house. My allergies do not handle fragranced cleaners or any bleach very well. Triggering my asthma or upper respiratory symptoms is not a good idea. So we are sticking with the tried and true cleaners we’ve used all along – vinegar, Murphys Oil soap – with a few enhancements. We do use bleach products in the toilet.

Our extra precautions come in with items that are external to the home – we do not wipe every piece of mail or box or package down. We bring items in, remove them from those bags and boxes which are then put on our back deck for a few days before being added to our recycling containers. We need plastic bags so I’m setting them aside to hand wash in soap and water and dry so we can use them with peace of mind. I’m not wasting bleach or disinfectant on them.  Some items sit in our entryway. It is confusing, I know. I know.

For takeout food, we bring into the house, remove from bag/box and then immediately put the food onto our own plates. Then we toss the delivery items. We try to recycle what we can. I’m appalled by how much trash we are generating because we will have to pay that piper one day, too.

In terms of our cleaning routine.

First, we typically use a white vinegar/water solution to clean in general – the acidity is what gives it the cleaning “oomph” to break down dirt and grossness. By that I mean, wipe counters and surfaces, clean up spills, etc. We use it in the kitten/cat spaces because it is not toxic to pets. So right now, we have small labeled spray bottles all over the house to grab and use when necessary. This is how I clean the pet crates and litter boxes.

Some people claim that white vinegar has a disinfectant property. I’m happy just to lean into the cleaning and deodorizing without toxicity properties.

Second, we have a bottle of bleach disinfectant spray cleaner and we made up our own mix of bleach/water that we can grab to do the necessary disinfecting chores – we wipe down the door knobs and handles, the light switches daily or when they’ve potentially been contaminated (when we bring in groceries or other outside items.) If we have concerns about a package, we’ll wipe it off with the solution. We disinfect pet tools as needed.

Third, we use a combination of paper towels and rags. We have soooo many rags, but they obviously need to be stored while wet and washed regularly. You don’t want a bunch of damp rags hanging around too long and you don’t want to air dry them for reuse without washing to eliminate germs. Our standard shifts based on whether we are in for the day or going in and out. I put plastic hampers in rooms where we need to use rags; we can wipe down the hampers with either vinegar or bleach.

Fourth, laundry. There’s a lot more because we are not rewearing things like sweats and we have the cleaning rags. We use Tide Unscented on the people clothes and Arm & Hammer something-freshy-sunny-scent on the pet laundry and rags. On any pet laundry (beds, puppy pads, blankets, etc), I use straight white vinegar in the fabric softener cycle to eliminate that lingering pet odor.

We are conserving some wipes, but passing what we have along to friends who are more at risk. I’ve been collecting toilet paper for a neighbor who is 87 and a friend who is 49 and very ill. Someone dropped off TP and a container of wipes on our stoop and I wept. My friend and her teen daughter are on their own even though they have so many people who love them, but we can’t safely go in and help them clean or do laundry or even cook. And if she ends up back in the hospital. Sigh.

Since we’ve been home now starting our third week. And the reason why I am writing a blog post about how we are cleaning is because I need to keep posting content to keep my sanity. I am proud of how we have found a system that works for us and doesn’t feed into fear or hysteria. I cling to that.

I get up and take care of critters, make coffee, get dressed. I wash my hands repeatedly. I drink coffee and read the headlines. I go upstairs to clean the kitten room. It is a familiar routine. We have white vinegar and towels and rags and clean puppy pads and brown paper bags. We have dish soap to clean their dishes. I go through these motions every day.

I pick up the rags and wash them. I launder and change the couch cover. I wipe down the bathroom with vinegar. I fold clothes. I wipe down the laptops and phones. I carefully wash my glasses with hot soapy water. I do not panic, but I cling to these routine tasks. I use a rag with vinegar to wipe down charging cables. I have a container of hand  wipes on the coffee table just in case, but I intentionally do not open it. I go into the kitchen where there is soap. We bought 8 bars of Pip & Lola’s Soap last week. It was 25% off with free shipping. I like the mild fragrance that wafts up when I wash my hands and silently sing my song.

Today, we used bleach on the counters. My throat burns and I am stifling a cough. It must be the bleach, right? Let me step outside for fresh air. My eyes water. It must be seasonal allergies. But there’s a shortage on albuteral ‘rescue’ inhalers so let me take some shallow-deep breaths so I don’t waste a puff in case I need it.

I am lonely and scared and unsure what to do. But I will get up tomorrow and hopefully, my throat will feel better. Right?


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