You’re going to want to start reading the fine print on your cleaning supplies.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated: June 21, 2019
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Whether you’re a clean freak or not, you probably have some cleaning tips you always follow or a cleaning checklist you work through semi-regularly. You have your sprays and wipes; you might do a deep clean every few weeks with smaller spurts of cleaning in between, or you might do an all-day cleaning spree every week. Whatever your cleaning personality, so to speak, to get your space truly clean, you’re going to need to kill any germs and bacteria lingering on the surfaces in your home—and that means following contact times.

Never heard of contact time? You’re probably not the only one. Essentially, it’s the amount of time a cleaning agent—a spray or a wipe, whatever you use—needs to be in contact with a surface in order to kill the bacteria, viruses, and other not-great things lingering there. If you’re not waiting long enough, your cleaner likely isn’t getting rid of the potentially illness-causing cells. If you’re spraying and wiping as you go to clean quickly, without waiting the prescribed contact time, you’re really just doing a surface clean by wiping up dirt, debris, and other particles—not the bits that can really get you sick.

“That’s the fine print that nobody wants to read, but all registered products will have a contact time,” says Travers Anderson, R&D Group Manager at Clorox.

If you look at the use instructions on disinfecting products, you’ll see contact times. They tell users how long a solution needs to be in contact with the surface in order to kill the bacteria and viruses living on it—and in many cases, it’s likely much longer than you think. Some common contact times for household cleaners are three minutes; hospital-grade disinfectants often have a contact time of ten minutes, according to the CDC. Whatever and wherever you are cleaning, if you’re wiping up the cleaning liquid before the contact time, you’re limiting its disinfecting power.

Fortunately, the fix is easy: Follow contact times. Buy a magnifying glass if you have to, but read that fine print on your household cleaners, especially the ones you use to clean areas where dangerous bacteria are common, such as in the kitchen or around toilets. Follow the contact times listed and let surfaces stay wet longer. Anderson says surfaces need to stay wet for the entire contact time—this may mean you’re using more cleaner, but it also means you’re getting a cleaner space.

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