How to clean during a pandemic

During a pandemic, you will need to clean more thoroughly to minimise the spread of the virus. This applies particularly to hard surfaces such as sinks, handles, railings, changing facilities, objects and counters.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • All Early Learning Services
  • Tertiary Organisations
  • Service Managers
  • Teachers and Kaiako
  • Administrators
  • Parents, Caregivers, and Whānau
  • Public Health Staff

General summary

As persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs), boards and early learning services have health and safety responsibilities as outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. This includes a duty to manage workplace risks and any potential or actual outbreaks of communicable disease such as influenza, measles and COVID-19.

Influenza viruses are inactivated by alcohol and by chlorine. Cleaning surfaces with a neutral detergent followed by a disinfectant solution is recommended. Surfaces that are frequently touched with hands should be cleaned often – preferably daily.

The Ministry of Health recommends:

  • to clean surfaces with a suitable cleaner and/or disinfectant and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use
  • when choosing a suitable cleaning product, consider what the product is effective against and the length of time the product needs to be left on a surface to clean it properly
  • where possible, use disposable cloths to clean surfaces. Reusable cloths should be cleaned, disinfected and then dried after use
  • ensure appropriate equipment is available for workers to wash and dry their hands.

Wash your hands well – Ministry of Health(external link)

Hygiene practices should also be elevated in a pandemic to an even higher level than usual.

  • Remind staff, children and students not to share cups, dishes and cutlery and ensure these items are thoroughly washed with soap and hot water after use.
  • Remove books, magazines and papers from common areas.
  • Consider ways of cleaning and/or restricting communal use of some play, physical education equipment and office equipment.
  • When someone with a suspected virus is identified and has left the school or early learning service, it is important that their play area, study area, work area or office and any other known places they have been, are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Planning should identify protocols for the use of personal protection equipment (if recommended by the Ministry of Health) and methods for waste disposal.

Review cleaning contracts

During the pandemic planning phase, cleaning contracts should be reviewed and contingency plans agreed with the cleaning contractor.

For example, review contracts for:

  • cleaning and disinfecting classrooms
  • removing towels
  • supply of paper towels (this should be increased).

Cleaning during the active phase of the pandemic

During the active phase, the quality and frequency of cleaning should be increased. This includes:

  • maintaining general cleaning in common areas
  • introducing specialised cleaning when needed
  • cleaning keyboards and telephones between uses
  • implementing stronger kitchen hygiene
  • adapting bathroom hygiene practices.

Maintain general cleaning in common areas

Suitable cleaning products (see the end of this document) should be applied to all hard surfaces in common areas daily:

  • all desks and tables
  • changing facilities
  • counters and railings
  • lifts and stairwells
  • doors, door handles and push plates
  • light switches and lift buttons
  • washbasins, toilet bowls and urinals
  • kitchen and tuck shop surfaces including benchtops, taps and the handles of microwaves, stoves and fridges
  • shared telephones and keyboards in common areas for example, reception, library, gym equipment, computer rooms, halls and lobbies
  • technical education equipment (wood/metalworking and design equipment)
  • arts supplies and equipment.

Introduce specialised cleaning when needed

If a child, student or staff member has entered the school or service while ill, specialised cleaning of their locker, desk and/or workspace should take place immediately to minimise the spread of infection.

Their locker and desk should be physically quarantined by means of tape and signage until this can take place. In the event that a child, student or staff member has to carry out the cleaning so that a shared workspace can continue to be used, appropriate protective and cleaning equipment should be provided.

Clean keyboards and telephones between uses

Keyboards and telephones should not be shared if at all possible.

In situations where they are, they should be cleaned between uses by the users themselves with appropriate anti-bacterial cleaning products.

Telephonist/receptionist staff members should have their own headset/handset, keyboard and mouse. These should be cleaned at the beginning and end of each shift and stored in a plastic bag labelled with the person’s name between shifts.

Implement stronger kitchen hygiene

  • Tea towel service can continue. Any laundry items must be washed and dried thoroughly outside or with a dryer.
  • Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items. Wash hands immediately after removing gloves or after handling these items.
  • Provide disposable paper towels in a suitable dispenser in staff kitchens for drying hands and drying dishes where required. The cleaning or supplies contract should provide for an adequate supply of paper towels at all times.
  • Remind children, students and staff not to share cups, dishes or cutlery and ensure they are thoroughly washed with soap and hot water after use (preferably in a dishwasher).
  • Use dishwashers where there is access to one instead of hand-washing dishes. Set dishwashers to the hottest water temperature setting where a choice is available.
  • Provide antibacterial liquid soap in kitchens for hand washing before and after food preparation.
  • Remove all magazines/papers from reception/waiting areas and from common areas such as kitchens, common rooms and breakout areas. 

Adapt bathroom hygiene practices

  • Consider alternatives to hot-air hand-driers.
  • Increase use of disposable paper towels in a suitable dispenser. The cleaning or supplies contract could provide for an adequate supply of paper towels at all times.
  • Provide antibacterial liquid soap in all bathrooms/toilets in preference to bar soap.

Maintaining ventilation equipment

The service or school caretaker is usually responsible for ensuring that the air-conditioning/ventilation equipment (for example, windows) is maintained to NZ Building Code standards. 

This should be evident from the building Warrant of Fitness certificate in each building. 

If the certificate is not current, then the caretaker should be contacted to ensure that IQP checks are carried out and the certificate updated. The supplier will be able to provide copies of the air conditioning hygiene testing results on request.

Cleaning and hygiene equipment and supplies

Contract cleaning will need:

  • antibacterial cleaning solutions, disinfectant and household bleach
  • personal protective equipment for cleaners including gloves, eye shields and masks for use if required (to be supplied by contractor)
  • increased stocks of paper towels and liquid soap
  • additional supplies of small/medium plastic rubbish bags
  • antibacterial liquid soaps.

Children, student and staff will need:

  • personal protective equipment (PPE) for use in emergency cleaning, including gloves, eye shields, aprons and masks (NZ Safety)
  • instant hand sanitiser
  • tissues
  • keyboard wipes (isopropyl alcohol).

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) will also require a management system including recording, maintaining, training and disposing – and in some cases, fitting and testing equipment.

Consideration should also be given to who will use PPE such as the nature of their work tasks, their breathing rate and familiarity with infection control and social distancing principles and procedures.

How to use different disinfectants


Recommended use


Sodium hypochlorite:
1000 parts per million of available chlorine, usually achieved by a 1:5 dilution of hospital grade bleach.

Disinfection of material contaminated with blood and body fluids.

  • Should be used in well-ventilated areas.
  • Protective clothing required while handling and using undiluted bleach.
  • Do not mix with strong acids to avoid the release of chlorine gas.
  • Corrosive to metals.

Granular chlorine:
eg, Det-Sol 5000 or Diversol, to be diluted as per manufacturer’s instructions.

May be used in place of liquid bleach if unavailable.

Same as above.

eg, isopropyl 70%, ethyl alcohol 60%.

Smooth metal surfaces, tabletops and other surfaces on which bleach cannot be used.

  • Flammable and toxic. To be used in well-ventilated areas. Avoid inhalation.
  • Keep away from heat sources, electrical equipment, flames, and hot surfaces.
  • Ethyl alcohol not to be used on keyboards, phones etc.
  • Allow it to dry completely.

Using bleach as a disinfectant

The Ministry of Health does not recommend any particular cleaning product as this depends on the purpose and use. However, hydrogen peroxide and bleach are both effective sanitisers and may be used for some purposes.

Some cleaning and sanitising products are more or less effective depending on the bacteria/viruses/soils etc. The product you choose to use must be effective and used in line with manufacturer guidance. Contact your local office of the public health service for site-specific advice.

Bleach for early learning services

It is recommended that early learning services use bleach as a disinfectant when responding to recent outbreaks of diseases caused by micro-organisms (germs) such as giardia, cryptosporidium and salmonella because many of these germs are resistant to most disinfectants.

  • Bleaches contain sodium hypochlorite, the chemical which kills bacteria and viruses.
  • Bleach used must be at least 2% hypochlorite. Supermarket bleach is labelled between 2-5% sodium hypochlorite.
  • Bleach solutions must be made fresh daily to remain effective.

A bleach solution may also be the most suitable to disinfect the nappy changing area, toilets and sinks. However, it is recommended centres contact an expert or their local public health service for specific advice.

To work properly the solution needs to:

  • be used on a surface free of dirt/organic material
  • be a strong concentration (0.1% – see table below). If there is visible contamination, then use a stronger 1:10 solution
  • have enough time to kill the bugs (ideally 30 minutes contact time).

The solution should be disposed of at the end of the day. Made-up chlorine solutions are often kept in spray bottles. If this is the case, the bottle needs to be cleaned daily as dirty hands touch it.

How to make up a 0.1% bleach solution

Strength on bottle

Bleach (ml)

Water (ml)

Total (ml)





















Using eco or natural cleaners

There has been an increased interest in the use of 'green', 'eco', 'organic' or 'natural' cleaning products.

Be aware that many of these products are suitable only for 'cleaning' surfaces by removing dirt, grease and grime, not for disinfecting surfaces to kill disease-causing germs.

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