We’re all doing the best we can. And for many of us, that means regularly wiping down our high-touch surfaces, but probably without Lysol wipes. Good luck finding those anywhere across the region. And unless you enjoy being slapped across the face with one “out of stock” note after another, there’s no use looking online, either.

One glimmer of good news: you can make your own disinfecting solution. Rubbing alcohol is one useful ingredient to employ, but like Lysol, it too is virtually impossible to find.

Bleach, on the other hand, that’s (slightly) more available. Check your local hardware store. (We sourced ours from Fairmount Hardware.) You could also check your laundry room. Many of us have a jug hiding somewhere near our washing machine. And in that jug is a key, coronavirus-fighting ingredient: sodium hypochlorite.

“When properly diluted and used on hard, nonporous surfaces only, unexpired household bleach is considered effective against emerging viral pathogens, which includes SARS-CoV-2,” says Jaclyn Beckett, a licensed pharmacist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, referring to the formal name of the coronavirus. “I recommend preparing a small batch daily to clean high-touch surfaces such as tables, countertops, doorknobs and handles, light switches, faucets, sinks, and toilets.”

There are a handful of precautions you need to keep in mind before getting started (see below). DIY bleach-based disinfecting wipes aren’t quite as convenient as the Lysol version. And they smell much worse. But whipping up the actual solution is quick, easy, and, most importantly, effective.

Use them for disinfecting your home. Other suggestions: your building’s elevator buttons or doorknobs, your car door handle and steering wheel, and your mailbox handle.

What material should I use?

You can use reusable cloths or rags for your wipes. Just remember it will discolor the fabric. You’ll also want to throw them in the laundry between each use. Avoid sticking them in with your other clothes, unless you want to reinvent your wardrobe with white polka dots.

If you’d prefer to create disposable wipes with paper towels, consider investing in shop towels. Shop towels are a heavier duty version of paper towels, often used by auto mechanics, and will hold up better than their standard counterpart.

Check your local hardware store, or Google search “automotive shop towels.” (Find them online here and here.) If you simply Google “shop towels”, expect to encounter a lengthy list of sold-out retailers. Like toilet paper, they, too, seem to be a hot ticket item now at places like Walmart, Target, and Amazon.

But again, regular fabric — like that of an old pajama shirt or dish towel — will work just fine. Before getting started, review the following.

Some important notes:

When diluted with water, bleach loses its effectiveness after 24 hours. In other words, you’ll need to make a new batch daily.

Never mix bleach with another cleaning solution, which can create dangerous and potentially lethal gasses. Steer clear of using old cleaner containers to store your bleach solution, too.

To stay safe, avoid mixing essential oils into your solution. The effects of mixing bleach with essential oils are not well known. If you want to use them to mask the smell, diffuse the oils separately after you’ve finished cleaning. (Directions below.)

Always wear gloves. While bleach is not usually toxic to the skin itself, it can easily irritate the skin. Beckett recommends disposable gloves, but notes, “good old-fashioned yellow reusable cleaning gloves will suffice as long as you only use them for this activity.”

Wipe nonporous surfaces only. Door handles, faucets, plastic toys, and sealed or painted wood furniture are all suitable surfaces. Bleach, however, can cause bare wood grain to swell and leave upholstery stained. And be very careful not to wipe down electrical outlets or light switches with a wet rag. Wring it out very well first.

Crack a window. This will not only diffuse the smell, but help prevent the bleach from irritating your eyes.

Label your solution and place out of reach of children. Bleach is toxic if ingested. Keep the bottle in a safe place away from children. And once you finish mixing your solution, don’t forget to label it so that it’s not misused or ingested.

Submerge sturdy paper towels with the bleach solution, or use an old rag or cloth to apply the disinfecting solution to nonporous, high-touch areas.
GRACE DICKINSON / Staff
Submerge sturdy paper towels with the bleach solution, or use an old rag or cloth to apply the disinfecting solution to nonporous, high-touch areas.

How to make wipes:

Ingredients:

  • Bleach
  • Water
  • Roll of high-quality paper towels (shop towels preferred), reusable cloth rag, or old T-shirt you don’t care about
  • Rubber kitchen gloves
  • Bucket or container, to mix bleach
  • Large cylindrical Tupperware container (if using paper towels)
  • Essential oil, optional (to diffuse smell after cleaning)

Directions

Step 1: Determine your bleach-to-water ratio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a ratio of ⅓ cup bleach to one gallon of water or four teaspoons bleach to one quart of water. Some Clorox bleach products call for ½ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water; others call for ⅓ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. We used “Clorox Germicidal Bleach” (⅓ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water).

Step 2: Make your solution. Put on your rubber gloves. In a large plastic or glass container, mix water with bleach, using a spoon to stir.

Step 3: Submerge the wipes. While wearing rubber gloves, submerge your cloth in the bleach solution. If using paper towels*, grab your cylindrical Tupperware container. Measure the height of your paper towels against the container, and cut your roll of paper towels to fit. Use a serrated knife to do this, and then place the paper towels in the container. Pour the bleach solution on top.

*If you opt for standard paper towels, be prepared for the sheets to stick together when submerged in the solution. To use, peel off multiple layers at a time, give them a gentle squeeze to ring out excess solution.

Note: For effectiveness against germs, you need to make the bleach-and-water solution every day you use it. If you have any leftover solution, now’s a good time to scrub that trash can or recycling bin clean.

How to clean a surface properly in your home:

Wash. Use a regular sponge to first wipe down any areas that you wish to disinfect. This will increase the effectiveness of the bleach.

Wipe with bleach solution. Take your cloth and give it a gentle squeeze, and then start wiping down the areas you want to disinfect.

Rinse the area. After cleaning, some Clorox products advise you to rinse the area with clean water. (Refer to list at Clorox.com.) For the Clorox Germicidal Bleach, Clorox advises to let the bleach solution sit on the surface for six minutes before rinsing it with clean water and letting the surface air dry.

Diffuse the smell (optional): To get rid of the bleach smell after you’re done cleaning, you can use essential oil. Combine 1 cup of water with 3-4 drops of essential oil. Wipe or spray it onto any of the larger high-touch surfaces that you’ve rinsed clean.