CDC updates guidance on disinfectants vs. soap to stop COVID's spread on surfaces

The highly-coveted wipes and sprays may not be necessary in "most situations."

April 5, 2021, 7:12 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on cleaning and disinfecting everyday household surfaces, saying that in "most situations" with no known coronavirus exposure, a thorough scrub with soap and water will suffice -- rather than disinfectant sprays and wipes -- to ward off COVID-19.

"Routine cleaning performed effectively with soap or detergent, at least once per day, can substantially reduce virus levels on surfaces," the CDC said at a White House briefing Monday.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said "disinfection is only recommended in indoor-setting schools and homes where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, within the last 24 hours."

Rochelle Walensky, who has been nominated to serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks after President-elect Biden announced his health care team at The Queen in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 8, 2020.
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The updated guidance tracks with what health officials and medical experts have already advised -- that the risk of passing on or becoming infected with the respiratory virus through "fomite" surfaces is low, compared to direct contact, droplet or airborne transmission. But the announcement Monday offers new specifics, saying there is "little scientific support" for routine disinfectant use to prevent surface contact infection.

It comes as the nation looks towards reopening and a new normal for community spaces and cleanliness standards.

Empty grocery store shelves in home cleanup aisles have been a common sight amid the pandemic, with sales spiking as shoppers grabbed highly coveted disinfectant sprays and wipes as fast -- or faster -- than stores could replenish.

The president of Clorox, Linda Rendle, told ABC's "Good Morning America" in May that the company had seen an "unprecedented spike in demand for wipes, up 500% versus a year ago," and that the wipes' limited supply were "being snagged just about as soon as they hit shelves."

Empty cleaning and disinfectant products shelves due to the Coronavirus Pandemic in Miami, May 7, 2020.
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Lysol, too, became scarce on the shelves, the makers saying in a statement early in the pandemic that the demand was "clearly having an impact on our retailers' inventory levels."

As supplies ran low, the disinfecting products were prioritized for hospitals and caregivers, perpetuating a high demand and prompting consumers to turn to do-it-yourself methods or internet purchases -- which prompted concerns over hoarding and price gouging.

During the pandemic's first months, eBay banned the sale of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and surgical masks by U.S. sellers after reports of skyrocketing prices for products and shipping.

"We have seen some people stockpile and we would encourage all of those people who have a little too much at home to help share with everyone else so we all have the disinfecting products that we need," Rendle told GMA, noting Clorox's "zero tolerance" for price gouging.

In an August earnings call, Rendle said that it might take a while to restock the product in stores, pointing towards later in 2021.

White House health officials on Monday reiterated their calls for Americans to heed mitigating health measures as a prime mode to stop the coronavirus' spread.

"Wearing masks consistently and correctly, washing your hands," and following health experts' guidance to maintain healthy facilities can help reduce the risk of surface transmission," Walensky said. "The main way people are infected with COVID-19 has been close, person-to-person contact."

ABC News' Anne Flaherty, Sony Salzman and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.

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