Cleaning, Disinfection, and Hand Hygiene in Schools – a Toolkit for School Administrators

Cleaning, Disinfection, and Hand Hygiene in Schools – a Toolkit for School Administrators

A Toolkit for School Administrators

About this toolkit

Reducing the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by cleaning and disinfection is an integral part of opening schools that will require careful planning.

This toolkit is intended to aid school administrators as they consider how to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, other school staff, families, and communities and prepare for educating students this fall.

School administrators are individuals who oversee the daily operations of K-12 schools, and may include school district superintendents, school principals, and assistant principals.

Cleaning and disinfecting your school will require you to:

  • Develop your plan
  • Implement your plan
  • Maintain and revise your plan

Recommendations are based on CDC’s current knowledge of COVID-19 in the United States. CDC will continue to monitor COVID-19 activity and update toolkit as needed. This toolkit is meant to supplement—not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and/or regulations with which schools must comply.

Handouts
image of multiple handouts for cleaning

Six Steps to Clean and Disinfect Your School pdf icon[PDF]

Steps to safely and effectively reduce the spread of disease in your school or facility

Six Steps to Clean and Disinfect Your School – Detailedpdf icon

Steps to safely and effectively reduce the spread of disease in your school or facility

For Teachers: Cleaning and Disinfecting Classrooms pdf icon[PDF]

Tips to reduce the spread of germs in the classroom by keeping surfaces clean and reminding students of the importance of hand hygiene

Reducing the spread of germs at schools

Cleaning and disinfecting and promoting hand hygiene are important everyday actions schools can take to slow the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases and protect students and staff. 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?

SARS-CoV-2 spreads very easily from person to person but can also spread by touching a contaminated surface or object. Although surface transmission of this virus is less likely, it is still possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own eyes, nose, or mouth. SARS-CoV-2 can be reduced and killed on surfaces, objects, and hands if the right products are used correctly. Cleaning and disinfecting can reduce the risk of spreading infection by reducing and killing germs on surfaces people frequently touch. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19)external icon includes ready-to-use sprays, concentrates, and wipes that kill SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces when used according to the label directions. Note: The products on List N are for use on surfaces, not humans.

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.  Germs from unwashed hands can get into the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes and make people sick. 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 that can cause illness, especially if done at key times throughout the day. To avoid poison emergencies, hand sanitizers should be stored away, and out of sight of children under six years of age and should be used with adult supervision.

Cleaning and disinfection: what’s the difference?

Cleaning and disinfecting are part of a broad approach to prevent infectious diseases, including COVID-19, in schools. To help slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, preventive measures include staying home when sick, physical distancing, using masks, washing hands often, practicing appropriate etiquette when coughing and sneezing, and regular cleaning and disinfection. Use the tips below to slow the spread of disease, specifically through cleaning and disinfecting.

cleaning icon

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.

spraybottle icon

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.

Note: It is important to clean indoor surfaces and objects routinely with soap (or detergent) and water. However, not every surface needs to be disinfected every time it is cleaned. Prioritize disinfecting surfaces that ill persons have touched and those that are routinely touched or shared between students.

Integrating cleaning and disinfection into the daily plan

Who will clean, how often, and where?

Cleaning reduces the risk of spreading infection by removing germs on surfaces people frequently touch. Consider cleaning more routinely at your school to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Staff and scheduling

  • Plan with staff and teachers. Discuss obstacles to more frequent cleaning and ways to overcome those obstacles.
  • Train staff and teachers. 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 use the personal protective equipment appropriate for the product. Consider providing instructional materials and training in other languages.
  • Develop a schedule for routine cleaning. Modify your standard procedures to accommodate regularly scheduled and consistent cleaning. Prioritize disinfecting surfaces that are routinely touched (e.g., doorknobs, light switches, classroom sink handles, countertops) and any items that must be shared. Please note that not every surface needs to be disinfected every time it is cleaned.
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Disinfection products should not be used by children or near children, and staff should ensure that there is adequate ventilation when using these products to prevent children or themselves from inhaling toxic vapors.

Consider ventilation system upgrades or improvements and other steps to increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminants in the school. Learn More.

Soiled surfaces and objects

  • Immediately clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled. Use soap (or detergent) and water to clean surfaces or objects that look dirty. 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. Contain and remove the spill, and then clean and disinfect the surface.
virus light icon

Coronaviruses on surfaces and objects naturally die within hours to days. Warmer temperatures and exposure to sunlight will reduce the time the virus survives on surfaces and objects. SARS-CoV-2 spread is less common through contact with contaminated surfaces. Routinely clean surfaces using soap (or detergent) and water.

Frequently touched surfaces

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (e.g., door handles, sink handles, drinking fountains) within the school and on school buses regularly. This might 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

  • 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, lockers or areas.
  • 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 use of supplies and equipment to one group of students at a time and clean between use. Students should wash hands or use hand sanitizer before and after use.

Safe and effective disinfection

Spread through contact with contaminated surfaces is not the most common way to get COVID-19. Routinely clean surfaces using soap (or detergent) and water. Not every surface needs to be disinfected every time it is cleaned. Prioritize disinfecting surfaces that ill persons have touched and those that are routinely touched or shared between students.

Choosing the right products

  • When choosing disinfectants, use products on EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19)external icon. These products can kill the virus that causes COVID-19 and include ready-to-use sprays, concentrates, and wipes.
  • If surfaces come in contact with food, they should be washed, rinsed, and sanitized (using an Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]-approvedexternal icon food contact surface disinfectant) before and after meals and snacks. If students are eating in the classroom, desks/tables might get in contact with food.
  • Ensure adequate supplies are available to support routine cleaning and disinfection.
    • Consider whether teachers and staff will need additional cleaning and disinfection supplies (e.g., cleaning and disinfection products, paper towels, gloves) beyond those normally stocked in classrooms and on school grounds and property.
    • Consider providing disposable wipes that meet EPA disinfection criteriaexternal icon to teachers and staff so that commonly used surfaces (e.g., desks/tables and chairs, keyboards, doorknobs, classroom sink handles, countertops) can be wiped down before use.
  • If products on EPA List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19)external icon are not available, bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface and will be effective against SARS-CoV-2 when properly diluted.
    • Most household bleach contains 5%–9% sodium hypochlorite. Do not use a bleach product if the percentage is not in this range or is not specified, such as some types of laundry bleach or splash-less bleach, as these are not appropriate for disinfection.
    • Follow the directions on the bleach bottle for preparing a diluted bleach solution. If your bottle does not have directions, you can make a bleach solution for disinfecting by mixing:
      • 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per gallon of room temperature water OR
      • 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of room temperature water
    • Follow the manufacturer’s application instructions for the surface. If instructions are not available, leave the diluted bleach solution on the surface for at least 1 minute before removing or wiping. This is known as the “contact time” for disinfection. The surface should remain visibly wet during the contact time.
    • Make a new diluted bleach solution daily. Bleach solutions will not be as effective after being mixed with water for over 24 hours.
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Caution: Never mix bleach (or any disinfectants) with any other cleaners or disinfectants. This can cause vapors that may be very dangerous to breathe in.

  • Ensure safe and correct use and storage of cleaning and disinfection productsexternal icon, including storing products securely away from children.
  • Ensure proper ventilation during and after application (for example, open windows).
    • Use child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows.  Position fans securely and carefully in or near windows so as not to induce potentially contaminated airflow directly from one person over another (place the fan strategically to help draw fresh air into the classroom from open windows or to blow air out of the classroom through open windows).
  • 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.

Use chemical disinfectants safely! Always read and follow the directions on the label of cleaning and disinfection products to ensure safe and effective use.

  • Wear gloves and consider glasses or goggles for potential splash hazards to eyes
  • Ensure adequate ventilation (for example, open windows)
  • Use only the amount recommended on the label
  • Use water at room temperature for dilution (unless stated otherwise on the label)
  • Label diluted cleaning solutions
  • Store and use chemicals out of the reach of children
  • Do not mix products or chemicals
  • Do not eat, drink, breathe, or inject cleaning and disinfection products into your body or apply directly to your skin as they can cause serious harm
  • Do not wipe or bathe pets with any cleaning and disinfection products.

See EPA’s Six Steps for Safe and Effective Disinfectant Useexternal icon.

Special considerations should be made for people with asthma. Some cleaning and disinfection products can trigger asthma. Learn more about reducing your chance of an asthma attack while disinfecting to prevent COVID-19.

For more information, see CDC’s website on Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities

Chemical Exposure Warning

Improper use of cleaners and disinfectants can result in unsafe chemical exposure. In fact, calls to U.S. poison centers about cleaners and disinfectant exposures increased by 20% between January and March 2020.

Prevent accidental chemical exposure

Chemical disinfectants should be stored up, away, and out of sight of children.

Get help in case of exposure

  • Call the poison control center, 1-800-222-1222, if you think staff or student has been exposed but they are awake and alert; the center can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Call 911 if you have an exposure emergency or a staff or student has collapsed or is not breathing.

Additional key resources:

Hand hygiene: promoting it in your school

The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, which is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Another key preventive action you can take is to regularly clean hands. Cleaning hands at key times 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 is not readily available is one of the most important steps a person can take to avoid getting sick. This 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 therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye 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.

For more information, see CDC’s Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives website.

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 with at least 60% alcohol 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). 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 reduce germs on hands

Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available

CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. But 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. For school nutrition professionals and volunteers working in meal preparation and/or distribution at a school/school district site or other public settings, hand sanitizer is not a substitute for cleaning hands with soap and water.

When using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.

Soap and water remove all types of germs from hands, while sanitizer acts by killing certain germs on the skin. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs in many situations, they should be used in the right situations.

Hand sanitizers are less effective than handwashing in some situations

  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill SARS-CoV-2 when used correctly. However, hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, including some germs that cause diarrhea. Always wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet and after handling trash.
  • Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Hands are often dirty or greasy after activities like eating or playing outside.
  • Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals, like pesticides and heavy metals, from hands.
Poisoning caused by hand sanitizers

Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. In fact, calls to US poison centers for alcohol-based hand sanitizers increased by 36% from 2019 to 2020.

Prevent accidental poisoning

Hand sanitizers should be stored up, away, and out of sight of children and should be used with adult supervision for children under six years of age.

Get help in case of poisoning

  • Call the poison control center, 1-800-222-1222, if you think a child has been poisoned but they are awake and alert; the center can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Call 911 if you have a poison emergency or a child has collapsed or is not breathing.

Handwashing Resources

Find a variety of resources to help you promote handwashing in schools and at home.

Posters
thumbnail for what you can do PDF

Suggested uses

  • Post in staff bathrooms, cafeteria kitchens, and communal areas such as teachers’ lounges, if open.
  • Post in student bathrooms and locker rooms.
  • Post near classroom sinks.
  • Distribute to parents, guardians, and caregivers in electronic or print form and encourage them to post near their sinks at home.

Available in

English | Spanish | French | Arabic | Bengali | Chinese | Portuguese | Urdu | Haitian Creole

Posters for Children and Teens

Posters for the General Public

Stickers and Mirror Clings
Life is better with clean hands

Suggested uses

  • Use stickers for classroom rewards.
  • Adhere clings to mirrors in school bathrooms or classroom windows.
  • Share with parents to print and use at home.

Available in

English | Spanish

Stickers

Mirror Clings

Videos
what you need to know about handwashing

Suggested uses

  • Play on school TVs or screens.
  • Distribute to staff to incorporate into lessons about handwashing.
  • Distribute to parents to use at home with kids.

Available in

English | Spanish

Videos

Fact Sheets
thumbnail for what you can do PDF

Suggested uses

  • Distribute to staff, parents, and students.
  • Post near hand sanitizer dispensers.
  • Distribute to parents, guardians, and caregivers in electronic or print form and encourage them to post near their sinks at home.

Available in

English | Spanish | French | Haitian Creole

Fact sheets

Graphics and Social Media Messages
handwashing is your superhero

Suggested uses

  • Use CDC’s graphics and messages when drafting communications about handwashing for staff, parents, or students.
  • Promote handwashing on your school or district’s social media accounts.

Available in

English | Spanish

Buttons and Badges

Social Media Messages

PSAs and Podcasts
CDC Radio logo

Suggested uses

  • Play during school announcements.
  • Distribute to staff to incorporate into lessons about handwashing.

Available in

  • English

PSAs and podcasts

Additional Resources