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Busted! 12 myths about killing the coronavirus

One year and many bottles of Lysol wipes later

Woman wearing mask pouring hand sanitizer into her hand Credit: Getty Images / andreswd

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It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since the first stay-at-home orders in the U.S. This time last year, many of us were faced with a great unknown and swirling questions—what cleaning products do I need to stay safe? Should I be disinfecting my groceries or my Amazon packages? How much is too much hand-washing?

Through the fear of the unknown, many misconceptions about how to stay safe from COVID-19 spread like wildfire through social media and word of mouth. In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) has even created a mythbusting database to prevent false claims from living on.

Let’s take a look back and bust these false claims once and for all—here are 12 myths about what kills the coronavirus.

1. Can the coronavirus be spread through contact with surfaces?

During some of the earlier days of the pandemic, many of us were focused on the coronavirus living on surfaces and what we could do to disinfect said surfaces.

With more research and data, we’ve learned from experts that the coronavirus is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets released through sneezes, coughs, or while talking. The coronavirus can also live on surfaces for days, but experts say it’s not the most common way it spreads.

“Masking, physical distancing, and avoiding large crowds are the primary mechanisms for preventing transmission of this particular disease,” says Dr. Cassandra Pierre, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center.

While close contact between people is one of the most common means of transmission, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that, while less common, COVID-19 can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to disinfect surfaces, along with following social distancing protocol and hygiene practices (like hand-washing).

2. Does UV light kill the coronavirus?

Phone sanitizing product on a red backdrop
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

When we tested three different UV phone sanitizers, we found that using a DIY disinfecting solution instead was more effective than all of the phone cleaning products.

You may have seen new UV sanitizing products pop up in the last year that promise to kill germs and viruses using UV light.

Ultraviolet-C (or UVC) radiation has been shown to inactivate coronaviruses—but there is limited data about the wavelength, dose, and duration of UVC needed to inactivate SARS-CoV-2, the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The WHO recommends against using UV lamps to disinfect your hands or other areas of your skin. Using an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water are the most effective ways to remove the virus.

In addition, the FDA warns that the effectiveness of many commercial UVC lamps that are sold to disinfect personal items (like cell phones) is ultimately unknown.

UVC lamps pose potential health risks, especially when used by untrained individuals. Many UVC lamps produce ozone, which can damage your lungs, and can cause injury if exposed to the skin or eyes.

3. Does heat kill the coronavirus?

In an effort to clean the coronavirus from our surfaces and spaces, many have wondered if heat can get rid of the virus. And if so, what temperature kills the coronavirus?

Many viruses can be killed when exposed to extremely high temperatures. The virus that causes SARS, for example, can be killed at about 132° Fahrenheit, according to the WHO.

This being said, effectively killing coronavirus with this kind of heat in a real-life scenario isn’t very realistic at all. COVID-19 can be transmitted in any weather, including hot and humid climates.

4. Does hand sanitizer kill the coronavirus?

While washing with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs from your hands, hand sanitizer is a great alternative when you’re on-the-go.

The CDC says you should use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in order for it to be effective in killing germs. Anything less may reduce the growth of germs, rather than killing them on the spot.

5. Does cocaine kill the coronavirus?

You may think this is a bizarre question, but it has been widely searched on Google since the beginning of the pandemic.

Simply put by The Poynter Institute, cocaine does not kill the coronavirus and will not help you fight off an infection. This fake claim went viral on social media and has since been debunked.

6. Does alcohol (or rubbing alcohol) kill coronavirus?

Hand holding bottle of isopropyl alcohol and other hand wiping down laptop
Credit: Getty Images / sirawit99

Alcohol can kill the coronavirus as well as many other germs, bacteria, and more, when used at the CDC recommended concentration of 60-90%.

Yes, alcohol can kill coronavirus—when used properly.

“Alcohol certainly has more than enough alcohol content to eradicate the virus that causes COVID-19,” says Dr. Pierre.

The external use of alcohol in products like hand sanitizer can help to kill germs and viruses. As for drinking alcohol, the CDC says this will not protect you against COVID-19.

Pure alcohol, like isopropyl, may damage certain surfaces around the home, so it’s best to opt for cleaning agents that are suitable for your surfaces—something like Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner will safely and effectively disinfect your sensitive surfaces.

Alcohol can also be very drying on the hands and can cause uncomfortable, cracked skin. “I wouldn’t recommend it, as it’s very harsh on the skin,” says Dr. Pierre. For this reason, Dr. Pierre recommends sticking to hand sanitizer if possible.

7. Does sunlight kill the coronavirus?

Experts do not recommend relying on the sunlight to kill the coronavirus. While the sun produces UV radiation, it does so in low levels that are not comparable to high-intensity UV light disinfectants.

While you shouldn’t rely on sunshine to kill the coronavirus, when the weather starts to get warmer, you can open your windows and rely on ventilation to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in public places like schools and offices.

8. Does the microwave kill the coronavirus?

The CDC says there is currently no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. So, you probably don’t need to microwave your take-out food to protect yourself.

In addition, you should not attempt to disinfect non-suitable objects, like metal utensils, in the microwave, as you could create a risk for a house fire.

9. Does bleach kill the coronavirus?

We know that disinfectant products like Clorox and Lysol wipes have become hot and hard-to-buy commodities over the past year. If these products are sold out, you can make your own diluted bleach solution that can be effective in killing the coronavirus.

The CDC says you can create this solution by mixing 5 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of room temperature water. There may be directions on your household bleach bottle on how to create a diluted solution—follow the instructions if they’re available.

10. Does vinegar kill the coronavirus?

Vinegar—like distilled white vinegar—has not been proven effective in killing the coronavirus.

The CDC recommends opting for a disinfectant product listed on the EPA list disinfectants for coronavirus or a diluted bleach solution made at home.

11. Does Lysol kill the coronavirus?

Person reaching for wipe from Lysol disinfecting wipe bottle
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Make sure you're following the directions on the label of your wipes and allowing your surface to stay wet for the recommended amount of time. This ensures that you are killing germs and viruses.

Yes, Lysol products can kill the coronavirus—they were actually the first surface disinfectant approved by the EPA to be proven effective in doing so.

Other disinfecting wipes and products can kill the coronavirus—as long as they’re listed on the EPA’s list of approved products. You can also make your own disinfectant wipes at home, as long as you use the proper amount of alcohol or bleach necessary to create these DIY wipes.

The CDC says you should always take the right precautions when cleaning with disinfectants, like wearing gloves and ensuring proper ventilation.

12. Does freezing kill the coronavirus?

Similar to hot weather, cold weather has not been proven to kill the coronavirus and there is no reason to believe it can, according to the WHO.

While news of frozen chicken wings testing positive for COVID-19 sparked worries last year, health experts and the CDC say the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food (including frozen food and produce) is considered very low.

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