If you have used SolveEczema.org’s environmental strategies to address eczema, you may be wondering: is there a difference between soaps and detergents—in the way SolveEczema.org defines them—for washing hands and surfaces to protect against the new coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 that causes Covid-19?

First, the CDC cleaning guidance for the public to prevent the spread of Covid-19 recommends a two-step process:

1 – clean surfaces first
2 – then disinfect

Why a two-step process?

According to a publication of the US Environmental Protection Agency, cleaning and disinfecting together in one step is less effective:
“Dirt and organic material make some disinfectants less effective, so cleaning is necessary before disinfecting in most cases.”

The EPA publication and CDC guide repeatedly recommend a two-step process for cleaning and disinfecting.

–The CDC guide says “[Disinfection] does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, [disinfection] can further lower the risk of spreading infection.”
–“If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.”
The EPA publication says “Sanitizing does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. Most sanitizers, as well as disinfectants, require a clean surface in order to be effective at killing germs. “ And,
–“Incorrectly using a disinfectant may kill the weaker germs, but the more resistant germs survive. Incorrect use includes “disinfecting a dirty surface” …[and] “using a combination disinfectant/cleaner without first removing visible dirt from the surface.”

Many disinfection products contain both surfactants (invariably, detergents) and disinfectants because companies believe the public will not follow a two-step process because it’s too much trouble. In ordinary times, they are probably right. Today, the public is going to great lengths to follow CDC recommendations. Plus, many articles suggest that washing hands properly with soap may be more effective than using sanitizer against the new coronavirus.

As for disinfecting surfaces, again, the CDC recommends cleaning first, then disinfection (if necessary).

The EPA has provided a list of products it expects will kill the novel coronavirus.

Note the first product on the disinfectant list is a Cleanwell product, which disinfects with thymol. Disinfection products containing hydrogen peroxide or ethanol or citric acid or iodine or bleach are also recommended, it is not necessary to choose a detergent-containing product.

If you want pure bleach without detergents, I recommend “Germicidal” Clorox because the Clorox quality is very consistent, and if you are trying to avoid surfactants, look for the “Germicidal” line only, as of the last time I looked, it was the only one of their consumer bleach products that did not also contain detergents. Note that they do not make it for or recommend it for the laundry— I do a short wash first with soap and only then using the bleach when disinfection is necessary, but you need to know that the company only recommends products that contain detergents for laundry at this point. With bleach being necessary for medical environments, it may not be possible to buy a bleach product at all right now anyway. If your child cannot tolerate the detergents, I just wanted to point out that the CDC says you can use other disinfectant products.

Next question: does it matter whether the cleaning is done by what SolveEczema defines as natural soap or detergents?

Short answer: No. According to everything I have read, all “soaps” should be effective. SolveEczema.org users should be able to use true soap and non-detergent disinfectants and comply with CDC recommendations for cleaning during this pandemic, without compromising their environmental strategies for eczema. Many soap producers are small businesses and have soap available for purchase.

Here’s a great article from a health center in Colorado that explains why soap is better than sanitizer, and they clearly reference true soap as defined on SolveEczema.org:

Big caveat: remember that soap (and detergents) don’t lather well in hard water. So it’s tempting to use a great deal too much product yet think it rinses away quickly, when that’s not actually what’s happening. With hard water, surfactants aren’t rinsing away quickly, the hard water is just destroying the suds. Keep washing and rinsing for the recommended time.