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Tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

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Christian Harris, a long-term HFP reader, runs a decontamination cleaning business.  He offered to write a few thoughts on what you should look out for when travelling at the moment, either by plane, bus or train.  Over to Christian ….

When the world is on hygiene lockdown, it’s hardly a surprise that cleanliness has become a hot topic. Analysis of the Twitter feed of one gym chain showed a 3,900% increase in tweets regarding cleanliness and hygiene in the two weeks leading up to the UK lockdown!

Whilst cleanliness on British Airways planes, in particular, has always been point of vigorous discussion on Head for Points, now more than ever this takes on critical importance.

Who you gonna call?

You’ve probably all seen people dressed up in what one of my safety industry friends called “Ghost Busters” outfits, which is showing the industrial side of hygiene, but what exactly are they doing?

tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

Why are some companies doing this and others are “only” vigorously wiping down surfaces?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there on this topic, which is a bit worrying if you think about it! Generalist cleaning companies, who, in my experience, often cannot do rudimentary daily cleaning that well, are offering “decontamination” services; there are specialist contractors who seem to be only doing sanitisation.

So, let’s try to give some clarity for you as an individual so you can best protect yourself.

Clean vs sanitised vs disinfected

Firstly, you should know that there is a difference between cleaning, sanitising and disinfection.

Cleaning is the removal of soiling, whether visible of invisible, from a surface

Sanitising is the reduction of bacteria and germs

Disinfection is the removal of bacteria and germs

You can sanitise a surface without necessarily cleaning it first, or indeed you can have one product or process which does both (e.g. your Dettol spray at home). But you cannot disinfect without thoroughly cleaning first, so not every all-in-one process will necessarily work.

Even after disinfection, the next time a surface is used it could have germs on it again

It is possible to leave a residual effect on a surface following disinfection which repels any germs, keeping them airborne where they will swiftly die out (we are doing this in lots of buildings once per week right now). However, if that surface gets soiled or has too much abrasion on it, it can become a landing place for bacteria again.

Many disinfection processes do not even leave that residual effect, so as soon as the first person with the virus on their hands touches a door handle, that is contaminated.

Disinfection is not a one-and-done; you need constant maintenance. Do not assume that a clean looking surface has no germs on it.

So, what should you do, practically, to reduce risk to yourself and others when travelling?

I’m at home shielding my youngest who has asthma, but if I were travelling anywhere, I would take my own spray or pack of wipes with me.  I would be cleaning and then disinfecting any surfaces before I touched them – door handles, coffee cups, taps – you name it.

It’s important to do a double process because surfaces can be dirty but with invisible contamination.  You want to physically clean this off the surface first and then disinfect.

Note that if you have alcohol-based wipes, the alcohol will almost certainly be used up cleaning the surface. You will have nothing left to kill germs – you definitely need a double process, which means using a second wipe for the final polish.

You could buy something like Milton Antibacterial Surface Spray and / or Milton Milton Anti-Bacterial Surface Wipes for this. I can vouch for these on a personal level as someone with two kids under 6!

tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

So use one spray and then one wipe, or two wipes may be easiest.

Naomi Campbell was on to something, basically, with her infamous pre-flight seat cleaning regime!

tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

Are planes / trains / coaches / tube carriages being cleaned and disinfected?

Without looking at exactly what is being done by an individual operator, it’s impossible to say. I strongly suspect all transport operators are doing more to try to clean, sanitise or disinfect, but the devil is in the detail as mentioned above.

As such, I would be very vigilant about any surfaces that I was going to touch.

Wash your hands and don’t touch your face!

Interestingly, cases of Norovirus are dramatically down this year because people clearly are washing their hands more than they would have done before. Hopefully we can all stick to this higher level of hygiene when the world returns to normal.

Christian Harris is the founder of Decontamination Cleaning UK ( and Slip Safety Services ( Until December 2019 he was a BA Gold card holder but has now, much to his chagrin, been demoted to Silver.

Comments (62)

  • Lady London says:

    @Christian Harris wouldn’t those steam cleaning things you get in Aldi or Lidl at very reasonable prices do the job without loading surfaces with residues of harmful chemicals?

    would also have thought this would also be much more effective for damaged or uneven surfaces and on a greater range of materials

    • Christian Harris says:

      Lady London,

      Yes, steam will be effective at both killing Coronavirus (according to the consensus view) and should clean most surfaces too.

      Obviously for the purposes of this article, Rob wanted me to focus on what people could realistically do on their travels, so steam cleaning isn’t that 🙂


  • Darren says:

    I’ve seen large UV units used in large offices to “kill bacteria” but are these effective against a virus? They are employed with other methods such as cleaning followed with ghostbuster fogging. I’d be interested to here Christians take on this.

  • IslandDweller says:

    Strong UV will kill Covid (and any other virus) but as large doses damage DNA (ie what we are made of) it needs very strict safety regime about how it is employed. The area to be treated has to be empty before use, or if that isn’t practical, the workman/woman using the UV device needs to be protected by full safety kit

    • Christian Harris says:

      All good points Island Dweller

      UV is another option but not too practical in many cases including travelling

      Public Health England talks about physically cleaning and disinfection for any areas with a known outbreak

    • Darren says:

      The place that has this process employed evacuates the area and uses remote operation of the unit. I would imagine that this would be impractical on an aircraft due to the seating config. but could work in airports and lounges?

    • Ming the Merciless says:

      Stron sunlight kills the virus. They were doing some trials in America, I think, to see if we can apply the light to the body… inside the body. They were going to look in to that.

      • Ming the Merciless says:

        And bleach. As the article says bleach kills the virus stone dead. We were going to look into how we can use bleach in the body, to, you know, kill the virus. You were going to look into that as well.

  • Novice says:

    This is the best article I’ve ever read here. 👏

    This has been my regime for a few years now. I hope the world really decides to carry on being clean after this pandemic. I know in future I would be happier to travel if this cleanliness carries on. We are living an OCD’s dream world at the moment. World is getting cleaner.

    I know I said I wouldn’t comment here again but I had to applaud a person who cares about cleanliness.

    • Riku says:

      I agree although it was on this site that I first read of the habit of putting you hand into a box of breakfast cereal to get the cereal out (Rob in a review of a lounge some months ago) and then people in the comments section saying that tongs were useless when serving yourself since you’d touch the food with your own hands when eating it anyway (never heard of holding sandwiches and biscuits with a napkin?).
      On the other hand it’s not good to use antibacterial products too much especially at home. The few bacteria that aren’t affected then thrive and they are the ones immune to further treatments of anti bacterial product.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Cereal with their hands!

        Perhaps grab a biscuit but no chance it’s acceptable to scoop cereal out of a bowl with your hands!

      • Crafty says:

        No, I have never heard of, nor seen, people holding their sandwiches with napkins. Sounds bizarre.

    • Christian Harris says:

      Thanks for your comments!

    • Anna says:

      Novice, anyone who was a child in the 70s or 80s probably remembers their houses being cleaned with bleach (usually by mums!) Everyone knew then that this was the only way to kill harmful germs, especially in toilets and sinks. In recent years however, bleach has fallen out of fashion, largely down to the environmental lobby which doesn’t like other organisms being killed at the same time. While they do have a point, I have long suspected that the trend for ‘environmentally friendly” cleaning products has left us vulnerable to harmful microbes and viruses. Prior to all this I always wiped down my door handles etc with bleach anyway as my son comes home from school every day having been in contact with who knows what?!

  • CV3V says:

    Thanks for what is a good explanation. I have family and friends in Asia and they have always taken ‘this’ seriously, ever since SARS. They always carry wipes and hand gel with them. On a plane they will wipe down the armrests and the table. If they don’t have wipes they will still use a paper towel (napkin) and water. On stairwells, escalators, moving walkways they never touch the handrail. In a lot of restaurants (including the expensive ones) they are provided the cutlery and plates with a bowl of hot water – and they clean everything (again) themselves, ‘just in case’. Also the government advice is to wear a mask, not like here where its wear one if you want to, and you can boxes of disposable masks in supermarkets.

  • Andrew MS says:

    Could a company produce wipes that kill both bacteria and viruses ?

    • CV3V says:

      Most do, e.g. Dettol wipes that Naomi C has in pic. These do kill coronavirus, but they haven’t yet had the chance to confirm if they work on Covid 19, but most likely will.

      Other good wipes are Clinell wipes, but, obviously they are constantly sold out or massively overpriced.

      • Dr says:

        “These do kill coronavirus, but they haven’t yet had the chance to confirm if they work on Covid 19”

        What’s the difference between Coronavirus & Covid 19 ?

    • Andrew MS says:

      P.s . 18 months ago , I took my seat on the plane , said hello to my neighbours, brought out the wipes , gave the tray table a wipe . It must have scared my neighbours who got up and moved seats ! Result for me , 3 seats on overwing emergency exit to myself .

      • Andrew MS says:

        Thanks for your replies CV3V and Pinksquare – very helpful

        • CV3V says:

          The Clinell universal wipes were a new one to me (found out what they are on HDUK!), but turns out they are what the NHS use a lot of the time. The package is designed to be stacked on its side, that way the chemicals don’t sink down to the bottom wipes. They are also designed to be non irritating to skin. But hard to find now (for the 200 pack), Weldricks get them back in batches.

          • Peter K says:

            I’ve used various wipes in practice and I personally find the clinell ones are the best.

  • ThinkSquare says:

    Pick your wipes carefully. Many have Chlorhexidine digluconate, which apparently is ineffective for coronavirus. Alcohol is good (but you probably knew that already).

  • James A says:

    Norovirus and C.Diff have been virtually eradicated from health care settings since this began. Amazing what can be achieved with some proper cleanliness eh 😂

    • Anna says:

      And proves my point (above) about modern cleaning products leaving us at risk of infection!

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Is it the products or how people (don’t) use them? I also suspect the home was cleaned more often in the 70’s as life became more hectic.

        Genuine questions I know if I looked at myself I know I have upped my game probably to where it should have been anyway.

        • Anna says:

          Well definitely the products, as bleach kills viruses and many other household cleaning products don’t.