Cleaning, Disinfection, and Hand Hygiene in K-12 Schools

August 21, 2020

Source: CDC

To reopen schools and keep them open, it's imperative to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus through cleaning, disinfection, and good hand hygiene. Having a thorough plan that can be revised as needed will be key to keeping teachers, support staff, and children safe and help minimize community spread. 

The recommendations below are based on the CDC’s web page Cleaning, Disinfection, and Hand Hygiene in Schools. We recommend you use this guidance along with your state and/or local laws, regulations, or recommendations, to ensure your plan is compliant and effective.


Importance of Cleaning, Disinfection, and Hand Hygiene

Cleaning, disinfecting, and promoting hand hygiene are important everyday actions schools can take, especially to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. The CDC offers the following cleaning, disinfecting, and hand hygiene considerations to help school administrators make decisions, protect their students and staff, and communicate with families and communities.

Why is Cleaning and Disinfection Important?
COVID-19 may be spread by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or possibly your eyes. It can be reduced and killed on surfaces, objects, and hands if the right products are used correctly (see also Understanding Disinfectant Kill Times and Is Your Hand Sanitizer Effective and Safe?). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has compiled a list of disinfectant products that can be used against the virus that causes COVID-19, including ready-to-use sprays, concentrates, and wipes.

Why is Practicing Good Hand Hygiene Important?
Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from getting sick. When SARS-CoV-2 gets onto hands and is not washed off, it can be passed from person to person. Then, the germs from unwashed hands can get into the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes.

Good hand hygiene – regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available – reduces the spread of germs, especially if done at key times throughout the day.


What’s the Difference Between Cleaning and Disinfection?

We have come to think that cleaning and disinfecting are the same, but they are distinctly different actions when it comes to controlling the spread of any infectious organism. 

Cleaning physically removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects by using soap (or detergent) and water. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection. Clean surfaces and objects using soap and water prior to disinfection.


Key Considerations

Integrating Cleaning and Disinfection into Your School’s Daily Plan: Who Will Clean, How Often, and Where?

Cleaning and disinfecting reduce the risk of spreading infection by removing and killing germs on surfaces people frequently touch. Clean and disinfect more frequently to reduce the spread of the virus.

Staff and Scheduling

  • Make a plan with staff and teachers.
    • Discuss obstacles to more frequent cleaning and disinfecting and ways to overcome those obstacles.
  • Train staff.
    • Ensure that cleaning staff, teachers, and others who use cleaners and disinfectants read and understand all instruction labels, understand safe and appropriate use, and have and are using the PPE appropriate to the product.
  • Develop a schedule for increased, routine cleaning and disinfection.
    • Modify your standard procedures to accommodate more frequent cleaning and disinfection. Focus cleaning and disinfection on frequently touched objects (e.g., doorknobs, light switches, classroom sink handles, countertops) and shared items between uses.

Soiled Surfaces and Objects

  • Immediately clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled with soap (or detergent) and water. Visibly dirty surfaces should be cleaned prior to disinfection.
  • If surfaces or objects are soiled with body fluids or blood, use gloves and other standard precautions to avoid coming into contact with the fluid. Remove the spill, and then clean and disinfect the surface.

Frequently Touched Surfaces

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (e.g., playground equipment, door handles, sink handles, drinking fountains) within the school and on school buses at least daily or between use as much as possible. This may include adding additional areas or surfaces to standard procedures for disinfection.
    • If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

Shared Objects

  • Limit the use of shared objects (e.g., gym or physical education equipment, art supplies, toys, games, computers) when possible, or clean and disinfect between use.
  • Discourage sharing of items that are difficult to clean or disinfect such as electronic devices, pens and pencils, classroom stapler, whiteboard markers and erasers, books, games, art supplies (e.g., markers, crayons, scissors), and other learning aids. Soft and porous materials, such as area rugs and seating, may be removed to reduce the challenges with cleaning and disinfecting them.
  • Keep each student’s belongings separated from others’ and in individually labeled containers, cubbies, or lockers.
  • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials to the extent possible (e.g., assigning each student their own art supplies, equipment), or limit the use of supplies and equipment to one group of students at a time and clean and disinfect between use.


Safe and Effective Cleaning and Disinfection

  • Use products that meet EPA disinfection criteria.
  • Ensure adequate supplies are available to support more frequent cleaning and disinfection.
    • Consider providing additional cleaning and disinfection supplies to teachers and staff beyond those normally stocked in classrooms (e.g., cleaning and disinfection products, paper towels, gloves).
    • Consider providing EPA-registered disposable wipes to teachers and staff so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down before use (e.g., desks/tables and chairs, keyboards, doorknobs, classroom sink handles, countertops).
  • Consider using a bleach solution.
    • If EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted. Diluted bleach solutions should be prepared fresh daily.
      • Bleach Solution Ratio

Bleach Solution Ratio
use room temperature water

Per Gallon of Water

Per Quart of Water

5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach

4 teaspoons of bleach

Caution: Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other disinfectant. This can cause fumes that may be very dangerous to breathe in.


  • Do not stockpile disinfectants or other supplies.
    • This can result in shortages of appropriate products for others to use in critical situations, and supplies can degrade and become less effective if stored for long periods of time.


COVID-19 Case in Your School

Your school might need to implement short-term closure procedures if an infected person has been in a school building. In most instances, a single case of COVID-19 in a school would not warrant closing the entire school. The rate of community spread and how much contact the person with COVID-19 had with others, as well as when such contact took place, need to be considered. These variables should also be considered when determining how long a school, or part of the school, stays closed. Administrators should work with local health officials to determine if temporarily closing the school building is necessary. Additionally, the CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting the school building thoroughly by:

  1. Closing off areas used by the person(s) with COVID-19 and waiting as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize potential for exposure.
    1. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area.
    2. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
  2. Cleaning and disinfecting all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the person(s) with COVID-19, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
    1. Surfaces should be cleaned using soap (or a detergent) and water prior to disinfection.
    2. For disinfection, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective against the virus.


Promoting Hand Hygiene in Your School 

Cleaning our hands is one of the most important steps a person can take to avoid getting sick.

This simple action helps prevent a variety of infections because:

  • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it.
    • Germs can get into the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes and make us sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, tabletops, or keyboards, and then be transferred to another person’s hands.
  • Removing germs through handwashing helps prevent infections.

Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. 

Handwashing can reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by up to 21%. Additionally, school-based programs promoting handwashing and hand hygiene can result in less gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses and fewer missed school days.


Establishing a Culture of Hand Hygiene

  • Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and increase monitoring to ensure adherence among teachers, students, and staff.
  • Build time into daily routines for students and staff to wash hands, especially at key times like after bathroom breaks, before lunch, or after playing outside.
    • Take into consideration any additional time students or staff may need to wash their hands while social distancing.
  • Consider making hand sanitizers available for teachers, staff, and students. Hand sanitizers can be placed near frequently touched surfaces (e.g., water fountains, doors, shared equipment) and areas where soap and water are not readily available (e.g., cafeterias, classrooms, gyms).
    • CAUTION: Supervise young children under the age of 6 when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol or contact with eyes.
  • Promote hand hygiene throughout the school by placing visual cues such as handwashing posters, stickers, and other materials in highly visible areas.


Using Hand Sanitizers to Clean Hands

CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. If soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

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