Everything you need to know about disinfecting packages


disinfecting packages
Do you need to disinfect deliveries? And how do you do it?
Photo: RoseBox/Unsplash

Your home is clean and sanitized. You wash and moisturize your hands regularly, and you haven’t left the house in days. By all measures, you’re pretty sure that your home is an oasis from the pandemic outside your door. But then the new MacBook Air, or that emergency delivery of tea leaves from Amazon, arrives. You have just accepted a potential COVID-19 virus carrier into your home. What do you do?

You sanitize it, that’s what. Just like you’ve sanitized the surfaces in your home.

Do we need to disinfect packages?

We do. According to the U.S. Postal Service, mail and packages are fairly low-risk, but the COVID-19 virus can live on cardboard for two to three days, says Wired. Or, it can last for 24 hours on cardboard, and 72 hours on plastic and steel, according to this study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this about the spread of the COVID-19 virus:

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

So, you may want to clean those boxes, but don’t panic. According to research done by the excellent Wirecutter, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that “At this time, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 is spread through environmental exposures, such as coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.” However, that was published on March 17, three days ago as of this writing, and since then the OSHA site no longer shows this advice. So, better safe than sorry, right?

How to disinfect packages

First, get rid of the outer packaging. You’re going to toss that, so perhaps it’s best to open up the shipping box, and then get it out of the house and into the recycling bin. If you keep your recycling in the garage, then consider doing this whole thing out there, away from your inner sanctum. There’s little point wasting a load of sanitizer or bleach on all those cardboard boxes.

The problem we’re trying to solve is to minimize contamination from the outside. This is tricky, because you will be touching the outer carton, then the inner packaging, and then the contents of the delivery itself. If you’ve ordered some stock gadget item, then it’s probably been sealed up inside the box for weeks, but who knows, really?

Outer layers

So, the plan is to first strip off the outer layers, and then sanitize what’s left. Then, you have to disinfect your hands. And don’t forget that you also may need to disinfect the box cutter you used to open it. If you leave this out in the garage, though, then you might just like to glove up, get everything done, and leave it out there.

So, remove all outer layers, and don’t let any of them touch anything else, if possible. Discard those layers, disinfect the item, and then wash your hands.

Also, if you didn’t take delivery direct from the deliveryperson, be aware of any “high-touch” areas you might contact on your way to the mailbox and back. This includes door handles, elevator buttons, doorbells and buzzers, and so on. You might consider spraying these with a bleach solution from time to time.

What about disinfecting the parcel already?

I use a mild bleach solution for disinfecting most things. Chlorine bleach breaks down to salt in the environment, so it’s safe, eventually. But if you are going to use bleach, be aware that it isn’t safe out of the bottle. Far from it. Read the warnings, and never, ever, ever mix it with other household cleaners. Mixing bleach with vinegar (acid) will make a chlorine gas that can kill you.

I’ve been mixing bleach with water, and wiping down all packages from the supermarket. If you wipe food, make sure it’s actual bleach that you’re using, not a cleaning product that contains bleach as an ingredient. And don’t use it neat. There’s no need. It just takes longer to disperse, and wastes bleach. According to Clorox, you should use half a cup of its Disinfecting Bleach product per gallon of water, wipe (or mop), and allow it to sit for five minutes to do its job. “For items that come in contact with food or mouths (like baby bottles or toys),” it adds, “rinse with warm water and let air-dry.”

You also can use the same alcohol-based sanitizers as you use for your hands.

Our biggest problem here is knowing what to do. Is the virus carried on surfaces? Or is it just transmitted between humans, carried in droplets on our breath? The best course seems to be to stay on top of the latest official advice, to take all possible precautions but not panic.


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