by Peter Malaise
Air and moisture Dr. Julian Tang, clinical virologist and honorary associate professor of respiratory science at the University of Leicester (UK), states that the coronavirus is probably airborne, as is the case with chickenpox, measles and tuberculosis. There is a growing scientific consensus that this is the case. The drops of moisture and fine vapour that we emit when we breathe, speak, sneeze and cough are probably the main route by which the virus is transmitted. In technical terms, such a vapour is called an aerosol, a micro-mixture of moisture and air.
With this insight we can understand why the corona measures such as avoiding contacts outside your (small) bubble, keeping your distance, wearing a mouth mask and washing hands are effective – at least, if everyone would adhere properly. The mouth mask largely prevents the droplets and fine vapour that we emit when we breathe, speak, call, sing, sneeze and cough from moving through the air to our fellow human beings. If we keep enough distance, we can prevent the finest particles, which still escape despite the mouth mask, from contaminating others; of course, it also depends on the quality of the immune system of the person in question whether or not they become ill. Incidentally, neither the medical world, nor politics, nor the media pay any attention to stabilizing and improving our immune system.
It would really help if we could colour in pink that air and moisture vapour that we have around us from just breathing, to make it visible. We would be very shocked and would automatically keep the necessary distance.
The corona pandemic forces us even more to maintain meaningful hygiene. The transmission of the coronavirus initially occurs via moisture in the air, and therefore it can be absorbed through our respiratory tract. Contamination from all kinds of surfaces is of lesser importance, but it is of course not negligible and therefore we must pay proper attention to it.
The tricky thing with the volumes of air in which we live is that they are difficult to clean – if we wanted to, because that is not really useful. When these air volumes are sufficiently exposed to sunlight, and the air is sufficiently refreshed by the natural air currents and by contact with vegetable and mineral surfaces, there is not really much of a problem. That is why adequate ventilation, which is also used in classrooms, is a good measure.
Viruses are not living things, but protein structures that need a living host on which to develop. Due to the movement of the air currents and the UV radiation of the sunlight, an oxidation occurs that affects the protein substance of the viruses and renders them systematically ineffective.
Fragrance Cloud Recently I had an interesting experience. Walking on a wide footpath, I crossed a lady. She walked by the side of the road and I walked by the side of the houses. There was two meters between us – well more than prescribed, and we both wore mouth masks. The moment I crossed her I could clearly smell her perfume; the smell persisted for a few more steps. I thought: if people could see this scent cloud in a pink colour, they would naturally keep enough distance, wear their mouth mask and not touch each other. They would realise how far such an “air flag” goes, and with that flag the risk of transmission.
Washing hands is also an efficient measure. We use our hands to touch all kinds of surfaces, grasp and manipulate objects. Involuntarily we also touch our face with our hands: forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, cheekbones, cheeks, mouth, chin and ears, it is a highly human gesture to do that. In addition, we can pick up or deliver traces of viruses, we act as a temporary carrier or host. Our skin forms a barrier due to the naturally occurring surface tension – which also ensures that fish and frogs do not drown, for example. Washing hands with a normal bar of soap already significantly reduces the surface tension of the water, and the protein structure of viruses is also seriously damaged by the soap; it doesn’t even have to be a special sanitising soap.
Disinfectant gels are also effective, but specifically on clean hands, because they cannot easily penetrate dirt; and they are not very healthy for the skin if you have to apply such a gel every time you pop in in a shop. They degrease strongly and at the same time you destroy the natural bacteria population on your skin, which protects you against pathogenic germs. It is of course very difficult to provide washbasins everywhere to have everyone’s hands washed with soap… In general, we should be much more careful with disinfectants in a household context, they are and remain risk substances.
Cleaning What about surfaces and objects that we and our fellow humans touch or grasp? It is to be expected that we will be able to pick up or leave traces of viruses there. When we touch contaminated surfaces and then our face, we make it easy for viruses to infect us through the respiratory system. Then it depends on the dynamics of our immune system whether we can neutralise those viruses by producing sufficient antibodies; we will then show only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. In our polluted Western society, with a diet and lifestyle of often questionable quality, it is not self-evident that everyone’s immune system is active enough to make this possible.
Yet, in essence, cleaning and washing in corona times consists of strictly applying a number of precautions, consistently and with care. When cleaning, we should pay more attention to the surfaces and objects that we frequently touch in normal use than to floors or stairs; for example:
• door handles and drawer handles
• push buttons
• handles of all kinds of appliances (coffee maker, toaster, iron, …)
• telephones and cell phones
• IT equipment (screen, keyboard, mouse, plugs, remote control, …)
• table, desks and worktops
• washing and rinsing tables
• chair backs and armrests
Floors and stairs should above all be kept dust-free: microorganisms, like moisture and grease, attach themselves to dust. Extra vacuum cleaning is the message, preferably with a vacuum cleaner fitted with a microfilter. Of course, regular ventilation of rooms and passage areas is necessary.
For all surfaces and objects, it is sufficient to wipe with a cloth moistened with a medium-strength solution of all-purpose cleaner; the cloth should be damp, but not wet. A real soap – type Marseille soap or hard soap – is not suitable for plastic surfaces because it cannot clean them properly. This has to do with the electrical charge of the molecules, both that of the soap and that of the plastics, not with an ethical preference. Opt for an ecological all-purpose cleaner, the use of heavy chemicals or disinfectants is unnecessary if:
• the collection is done carefully,
• the used cloth is regularly rinsed in the all-purpose cleaner and
• the solution is refreshed from time to time.
The surfactants in the all-purpose cleaner solution damage the viruses and destroy their protein structure.
This also applies to toilet bowls, where we can pay extra attention to the seat when cleaning, because there is skin contact when using the toilet. For wash tables and sinks we can organise an extra cleaning on top of the usual.
Washing We can also adhere to a few simple basic rules for washing textiles.
For the average white and colourfast laundry, we load the machine in such a way that a fists’ width remains free above the dry laundry. If we stuff the machine drum tightly, assuming that we are acting economically and ecologically, we prevent the laundry from moving freely during the wash cycle. It is just like a can of sardines rotating on its axis, the washing and rinsing results are simply not good.
Then we choose the temperature: 40°C is sufficient for most cycles, again it is not so much the temperature, but the surfactants and the bleach in the detergent that tackle the dirt and destroy the protein structure of the viruses. At 40°C, all substances that our body secretes can be easily removed: our body temperature is about 37°C and we are above that. When we have (corona) patients at home, we can wash certain types of laundry at a higher temperature: underwear, bed linen, towels, wash cloths, handkerchiefs, pyjamas, nightdresses and dressing gowns of the patient. For this we choose 60°C, that is pasteurisation temperature, where in combination with the detergent all microorganisms such as fungi, yeasts, bacteria and viruses are destroyed – but also house dust mites, fleas and lice.
For whites and colourfast laundry we choose a powdered heavy-duty detergent with built-in oxygen bleach. For dark colours, we choose a liquid detergent and add some oxygen bleach to it to remove bleachable stains (coffee, tea, grass, wine, fruit and vegetable juice, …).
It is certainly recommended to give the used cleaning cloths an extra wash during the pandemic.
In all cases, we pay close attention to a correct load, a correct dosage that takes into account the degree of soiling of the laundry, and the water hardness, and we choose the temperature as described above.
During the corona pandemic, we prefer not to use fabric softener in the last rinse water:
• fabric softener deposits a thin, greasy film on the laundry that allows micro-organisms to adhere,
• it reduces the detergent efficiency at the next wash, and
• it reduces the moisture absorption of the textile.
It is also best not to use vinegar in the final rinse water. Vinegar has limited lime-binding capacity and may affect parts of the machine. It also smells quite unpleasant during the wash cycle. It is better to use citric acid or lactic acid, they have twice the lime-binding capacity, and they are odourless; they also fight the growth of microorganisms in the machine. They can be found at stores selling supplies for beer, wine, cheese and jam making.
Ventilating and exposing objects and fabrics to sunlight – even in autumn and winter – is a good hygiene measure. Both promote oxidation on the exposed surfaces, which has a germicidal effect.
All things considered, we can maintain good ecological hygiene in our homes and offices even during corona times, with a handful of simple measures such as vacuuming, hand washing, surface wiping, washing at normal temperatures, and using sustainable cleaning products – without unwanted and unacceptable chemistry.
Producers There are a number of reliable manufacturers throughout Europe who develop and produce sustainable products only, with a long experience in this field, and offer brands of efficient detergents and cleaning products through various trade channels, including online.
Forget the big, conventional market players: they’ve been blocking this development for decades and their offerings aren’t ready for the future.
Also be careful with self-proclaimed “green” companies and products. Anyone who offers a truly sustainable product will pass an external evaluation without any problem. That test can be a sustainability label, preferably a private label. State labels or even EU labels often want to dance to the tune of major industry and financial interests. Labels that are exclusively managed by manufacturers are also insufficiently reliable. And it goes without saying that it is the reputation that the companies have acquired over the years and decades, through full and transparent communication, that will be the deciding factor.
Below is a list that is not exhaustive, but does show the top sustainable brands in alphabetical order.
Étamine du Lys [https://www.etaminedulys.fr/]
Those who want more details about the raw materials for detergents, cleaning products and cosmetics can freely consult the website [https://www.ecobiocontrol.bio/] (French, English, Italian).
This article is the personal opinion of the author and is not sponsored by anyone. References to manufacturers or brands do not confer any financial or other benefit on the author or Meta.Consort. Meta.Consort is a consulting company, they neither manufacture, nor sell products of any kind, nor do they offer cleaning services.