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Disinfecting Surfaces Affected by the Cold or Flu Virus

Posted January 21, 2023 by Mike Lewis under Tips

Disinfecting Surfaces Affected by the Cold or Flu Virus


The cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces for hours or even days. When someone who is sick touches surfaces like doorknobs, desks, keyboards, or countertops, they can leave behind germs that can infect others. Proper cleaning and disinfection of surfaces is an important part of preventing the spread of viral illnesses like the cold or flu. As we head into cold and flu season, it’s important to understand how to effectively disinfect surfaces in your home, workplace, or school.

How Long Can Cold and Flu Viruses Live on Surfaces?

  • The influenza virus can live on hard surfaces for 24-48 hours. On soft, porous surfaces it can survive for up to 8-12 hours (1).

  • Rhinoviruses that cause the common cold can persist even longer, for up to 5 days on surfaces (2).

  • This demonstrates why routine disinfection of high-touch surfaces is so important – virus particles can linger for days if surfaces are not properly cleaned.

Disinfecting vs Cleaning

  • Cleaning refers to removing dirt and impurities from surfaces. This is done with water, soap, and mechanical action.

  • Disinfecting goes beyond cleaning to kill germs and viruses. Disinfectants contain chemicals that inactivate viruses.

  • For surfaces contaminated with cold or flu viruses, both cleaning and disinfection are necessary. Cleaning removes some germs and allows disinfectants to work optimally.

Best Disinfection Methods and Products


  • Diluted bleach solutions are very effective at inactivating cold and flu viruses.

  • The CDC recommends mixing 5 tablespoons bleach per gallon of water. Be sure to use bleach intended for disinfection, and prepare the solution fresh.

Alcohol-Based Disinfectants

  • Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol are highly effective against influenza and rhinoviruses.

  • Look for disinfectant products that contain ethanol or isopropanol. Hand sanitizers fall into this category.

Other EPA-Approved Disinfectants

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests products to ensure they kill viruses.

  • Look for EPA-registered disinfectants and always follow label instructions. Many contain quaternary ammonium compounds or hydrogen peroxide.

Best Practices for Disinfection

  • Focus on high-touch surfaces – doorknobs, light switches, phones, remote controls, counters, keyboards, toilets.

  • Wear gloves and open windows for ventilation when disinfecting.

  • Clean surfaces thoroughly before disinfecting. Dirt and organic matter reduces disinfectant effectiveness.

  • Follow contact times – leave disinfectant on surfaces for the time indicated on the label to kill pathogens.

  • Disinfect at least once per day in high traffic areas when illness is spreading.


Proper disinfection of surfaces can greatly reduce the transmission of viral colds and influenza. Focus on high-touch areas and use disinfectants proven to kill viruses, such as bleach, alcohol, and EPA-approved products. Establishing routine disinfection procedures at home, work, school, or businesses is an important preventive measure. With the right disinfection strategy, we can reduce the spread of winter illnesses this cold and flu season.




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