Issued 5/13/2020

Revised 5/30/2020 -  disinfectant ordering information added.

Revised 6/11/2020 - contact time for vital oxide changed to 10 min.

Revised 4/20/2021 - added information from updated CDC guidance dated 4/6/2021.


This document provides laboratory cleaning /disinfection guidance for COVID-19.

Additional guidance for preventing the spread of the virus in laboratories and research buildings can be found in the Resumption of Research Checklist and the CDC’s website.

The virus is primarily spread:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
  • When droplets land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or are inhaled into the lungs.
  • When someone has touched a surface or object contaminated with the virus and then touches their own mouth, nose, or eyes.  This pathway is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

What to Clean and Disinfect and When to Do it


Cleaning with products containing soap or detergent is an effective way to sanitize surfaces. Current CDC guidance suggests that cleaning surfaces with soap or detergent once per day is usually enough to sufficiently maintain a healthy facility.

Disinfection is an additional step that kills any remaining germs on surfaces and further reduces the risk of spreading infection. Disinfection of shared spaces is recommended by the CDC when there is high transmission of COVID-19 in the community, a low number of people wearing masks, infrequent hand hygiene, or if the space is occupied by sensitive populations.  Disinfectants must always be used according to the product label. If a disinfectant product label does not specify that it can be used for both cleaning and disinfection, clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap or detergent before disinfection.

What Housekeeping is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting

Housekeeping will clean and disinfect high touch surfaces and areas outside of the lab spaces, including bathrooms, kitchens, break rooms, and conference rooms.

What lab personnel are responsible for cleaning and disinfecting

Lab personnel are responsible for regularly cleaning the surfaces in their laboratories and offices.  Disinfection of surfaces is an additional sanitization step that is strongly recommended by EHRS. See Approved Disinfectants and Use below for products and instructions.


Shared equipment in the lab must be cleaned and disinfected before and after each use. Label or place a sign near the equipment with a reminder to do this. 

Place a spray bottle with disinfectant and wipes near the equipment. (Don’t forget to properly label the bottle and keep a small trash can nearby for disposal of the wipes). If your disinfectant product label does not specify that it can be used for both cleaning and disinfection, clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap or detergent in water before performing disinfection.

High touch surfaces in the lab must be cleaned and disinfected at the end of each workday. Examples of high touch surfaces in the lab are:


Drawer and cabinet handles

Hand tools

Equipment handles and latches

Bin and water incubator lids

Faucet handles and sprayer grips

Equipment controls and touchpads

Outsides of shared chemical bottles and caps

Micropipettors and other shared tools

Baskets, bins, trays, etc.

Chair backs and arm rests

Pens, whiteboard markers, etc.

Door handles/knobs in the lab

Light switches

Hood sashes and airfoils


Equipment corridors and shared equipment spaces

Shared facilities and equipment, including fume hoods and biosafety cabinets, procedure rooms, instruments, and instrument/resource facilities, will require coordination with other lab groups.  A sign-up sheet or reservation system should be considered for managing shared facilities or equipment.

Clean and disinfect equipment before and after each use. This includes all touchable surfaces. Place a spray bottle with disinfectant and wipes near the equipment. If your disinfectant product label does not specify that it can be used for both cleaning and disinfection, clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap or detergent in water before performing disinfection.


All deliveries received to the lab must be opened promptly upon receipt.  Remove the packing materials from the lab and wash your hands after opening packages.


Shared office spaces must be cleaned by the occupants.  Clean and disinfect any shared office equipment and supplies before and after each use.

Clean and disinfect touchable surfaces in your personal workspace at the end of each workday.

Approved Disinfectants and Use

Approved Disinfectants

  • Disinfectants kill germs on surfaces. By killing germs on a surface after cleaning, you can further lower the risk of spreading infection. EPA-approved disinfectants are an important part of reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19. If disinfectants on this list are in short supply, alternative disinfectants can be used (for example, 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions).  Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours. Exercise caution as even 70% ethanol is flammable and can be ignited. Best practice is to saturate a wipe and apply to the surface rather than directly spraying if ignition sources are nearby.  Ethanol often evaporates before the required contact time of 60 seconds, so it should be reapplied if within the 60 seconds as it evaporates.
  • EHRS recommends EPA-registered disinfectant product Vital Oxide.  The required contact time for Vital Oxide sanitation of hard surface is 60 seconds.  Required contact time for disinfection is 10 minutes.   Labs that complete Penn's Resumption of Research notification form will be provided a  supply of this disinfectant.  Refills can be ordered used this webform
  • Label all disinfectant containers with the name of the contents and instructions for use, including the required contact time. Store and use disinfectants in a responsible and appropriate manner according to the label.  Do not mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together–this can cause fumes that may be very dangerous to breathe in.

Instructions for Disinfecting Surfaces

  • Normal routine cleaning with soap and water removes germs and dirt from surfaces. It lowers the risk of spreading COVID-19 infection.
  • For most disinfectants, you need to thoroughly wet the surface, then wait the appropriate contact time as specified on the label before wiping. This is even true when using bleach. If your bottle doesn’t have the instructions on the label, look them up online. Do not assume that the disinfectant works on contact.
  • Benchtop liners (diaper paper) cannot be cleaned or disinfected. Liners must be replaced daily or not used so that the benchtop can be adequately disinfected.
  • Wipes used for disinfecting surfaces can be discarded in the regular trash.
  • See Precautions below for guidance on cleaning electronics and sensitive equipment.


Disinfectants must always be used according to the product label. Wear PPE including gloves and safety glasses while using disinfectants products.  After cleaning, remove and dispose of gloves and immediately wash hands.

Alternative surface disinfection methods, such as fogging, fumigation, wide-area spraying, electrostatic spraying ultrasonic waves, high intensity UV radiation, and LED blue light should not be used at Penn.

Protecting sensitive equipment

Certain equipment may be damaged by spraying disinfectants directly onto components (computer keyboards and mice, key-style equipment touchpads, on/off switches, power tools, etc.) and by harsher disinfectants such as bleach. If you have approved quaternary-ammonium disinfectant or 70% ethanol wipes, use them for these more delicate tasks. If you do not have disinfectant wipes, these items can be disinfected by soaking a dry wipe or clean soft cloth in the alcohol or disinfectant until it is soaked but not quite dripping, and then using it to wipe the keyboard/switch/etc., being careful to avoid getting liquid into any openings. The surface should be visibly wet after you wipe it, and the disinfectant should be left to evaporate from the surface.

Consider whether frequently used or hard to clean electronics should be protected with a disposable barrier. Examples of products available from Amazon: Keyboard covers, mouse covers.

Check with the manufacture or product manual for specific instructions on cleaning and disinfecting specialized equipment.

General Guidance for Cleaning Computers

  • Use only a soft, lint-free cloth. Avoid abrasive cloths, paper towels, or similar items.
  • Avoid excessive wiping, which might cause damage.
  • Unplug all external power sources, devices, and cables.
  • Don't get moisture into any openings.
  • Don't use aerosol sprays, bleaches, or abrasives.
  • Don't spray cleaners directly onto the item.

Related EHRS References