This myth has been doing the rounds on social media from the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. However, not only is it untrue, but spraying yourself with chemicals such as chlorine or bleach could be dangerous.

It is unclear where the idea originated. Perhaps people thought that, as a disinfectant is used to clean surfaces, it might be useful for disinfecting people. However, spraying yourself with these substances will not help if the virus has already entered your body. Handwashing with soap is sufficient to remove the virus from your hands and prevent you from spreading it onto surfaces or transferring it to your mouth, eyes or nose.

If chemicals such as chlorine or bleach come into direct contact with your eyes or mucous membranes (such as inside your mouth and nose) this could damage them. Inhaling such sprays could also cause breathing difficulties.

Always use products in accordance with the guidance provided on the labels.

Where did the story come from?

It is unclear where the story originated. However, one widespread news report showed officials apparently spraying a mixture of chlorine and water over a group of migrant workers in Uttar Pradesh, India. The local government later blamed “overzealous” officials.

What is the basis for the claim?

There is no scientific basis for the myth that spraying people with bleach or chlorine can “disinfect” those carrying the virus. These disinfectants work only to clean surfaces.

If a person has the virus that causes COVID-19, the cells inside their body are infected. The virus will be carried in their saliva and mucus, and so it will be spread in droplets of these fluids if they cough or sneeze. If people who are infected touch their mouths, eyes or noses, or cough or sneeze onto their hands, particles of the virus will get onto their hands. It can then be transferred from their hands onto other surfaces, where other people might pick it up.

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be used to clean your hands if you are away from home and don’t have access to handwashing facilities.  However, spraying alcohol over the rest of your body is unlikely to bring any additional benefit.

Spraying people with disinfectant will not stop transmission of the virus and spraying yourself will not stop you catching the virus or help in any way if you have already been exposed to the virus.

The best way to reduce your chances of being infected with coronavirus is to follow the accepted guidance about social distancing and washing hands frequently with soap and water.

What do trusted sources say?

The World Health Organization says: “Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth). Be aware that both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations.”

Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser

 

Citation

  1. Migrant workers sprayed with disinfectant in one Indian state. CNN 31 March 2020 https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/30/india/india-migrant-workers-sprayed-intl/index.html (Accessed 16 April 2020)

Reading list

  1. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about Chlorine. 4 April 2020. https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp (Accessed 16 April 2020)
  2. World Health Organization, Mythbusters: Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus? https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters (Accessed 16 April 2020)