How to Clean, Sanitize and Disinfect Your Desk in the Age of Coronavirus

April 27, 2021
How to Clean, Sanitize and Disinfect Your Standing Desk Workstation in the Age of Coronavirus

By now we’ve all learned how to wash our hands for a minimum of twenty seconds and to keep a small bottle of sanitizer in our pockets wherever we go, and in our cars. But what about our workstations? How do you make sure to have a clean desk, especially as you share your workstation with other people?

The answer depends on the kind of work surface you have installed on your desk. The most commonly sold are high-pressure laminate (HPL), Surf(x) 3D-laminate, other 3D thermoform vinyls, engineered wood (e.g. bamboo grass that’s been transformed into wood), reclaimed wood, powder coat and natural solid wood (to learn about other differences between them see our Complete Guide to Desk Top Materials for Active Workstations).

A Clean Desk vs. A Sanitized Desk vs. A Disinfected Desk

The CDC advises to “match your cleaning and disinfecting activities to the types of germs you want to remove or kill”. Now, more than ever, it is important to be aware of the difference between merely cleaning, sanitizing and fully disinfecting your surfaces. Let’s get some definitions out of the way.

Cleaning your desk gets dust, water rings and fingerprints physically removed, using water and sometimes with the help of mild detergents, and requires elbow grease. It is essential to clean surfaces properly before sanitizing or disinfecting them, it’s step one.

Sanitizing your workstation addresses germ control in general, but isn’t specific to an organism. You’ve seen products that claim “kills 99.9% of germs” or “kills 99.999%” of germs. The latter is the standard for food contact surfaces, versus nonfood, and the death of these germs must occur within 30 seconds of application.

Disinfecting your standup desk involves the inactivation of pathogens. This usually involves chemicals, heat or UV light. Sterilization destroys microbial life including bacteria, viruses, spores and fungi. The most common disinfectants use quaternary ammonium compounds, hydrogen-based solutions or sodium hypochlorite (bleach).

Right now, the internet is replete with articles on how best to make sure your work environment is disinfected. Some are urban legends (no, vodka will not sanitize a surface). Some chemical solutions, while great as disinfectants, can discolor or damage your work surface. Bleach and ammonia, for example, will cause discoloration over time on many desktop materials. Others, like Windex, are great cleaners and recommended in normal circumstances, but they do not disinfect.

The EPA has published a list of cleaning solutions that are laboratory proven to combat SARS-CoV-2 (a.k.a. Covid-19). The question is, which of these are safe to use on your desk.

There’s Surf (x) 3D Laminate…

ergo-contoured 3d laminated tabletops
Healthcare-grade Surf(x) 3D laminate is incomparable in its combination of durability, resistance to harsh cleaning chemicals and aesthetic beauty.

When it comes to cleaning and disinfecting, the best desktops by far are those manufactured using healthcare-grade “Surf(x) 3D-laminate.” These are only currently made in the USA, and are primarily available from leading standing desk manufacturer iMovR.

In addition to being hermetically-sealed and thus leaving no glue seams for bacteria to get into—and generally being gorgeous—you can use any cleaning solution that a hospital would use in order to clean and disinfect it. Desktops made with Surf(x) laminates come in an incredible array of shapes, sizes and colors, as for example with iMovR’s Freedom and Lander desk lines. (Learn more about this option in iMovR’s guide to the Benefits of 3D Laminate, along with a long list of EPA-recommended cleaning solutions already tested and approved for use on iMovR’s desktops.)

Popular cleaning solutions that you could use to disinfect a Surf(x) 3D laminated desktop include Lysol, Clorox and 5:1 bleach formulas. None of these will harm the surface. The same cannot be said for other desktop materials.

There’s Natural Solid Wood…

There’s a reason why connoisseurs of top-tier furniture will not compromise on wood quality, even if it is office furniture. A real wood top on an office desk will age graciously like fine wine, building character with dings, dimples and scratches sustained over a lifetime, and anyone who’s willing to invest 2x or 5x more on ultra-premium, real wood desktop will worry about any irreparable damage that cleaning agents may cause.

Our first advice is to check with the manufacturer and get the best advice before attempting to use any common cleaner not specifically recommended (care instructions should have been provided with the desk). But, as a rule of thumb, a real wood desktop will perform like any other real wood furniture, and therefore you can treat it as such. A simple soap-and-water solution is enough to get the job done. But if you want to be doubly sure, go ahead and use a gentle, non-abrasive cleaner.

Remember, however, to do a spot test first. Apply the cleaning solution to a small, inconspicuous section before committing to the whole top, and proceed only after you’re confident that there are no streaks or other surface blemishes.

Our wood experts add a further caution for furniture backed with felt — the solvents in the adhesive can migrate and cause `blush marks’. And don’t clean with canned air. Under certain circumstances, the propellant solvents can imbed/blush the finish.

…And Then There’s the Rest

The following advice pertains to all other desktop materials, in particular the very common HPL tops. However, we must caution that if your desktop is powder coated harsh cleaners can easily strip the paint off, depending on the kind of painting process that was (e.g. whether single or double-coat), so be sure to test any cleaner vigorously on a less visible back edge area of the desk before using it on the visible parts of the desktop.

A similar caution applies to any desktop that isn’t really made from real wood, but rather engineered from a grass, such as bamboo, or hardwoods that require a lot of chemical processing, such as rubberwood. The laminate on these desktops is a thin clear coat that can easily dissolve leaving you with a very unattractive mess of a desktop. “Reclaimed wood” tops are similarly made and have the added attribute of being exceedingly susceptible to changes in moisture leading to cracking and warping, so be exceedingly careful with those. If you’re considering buying a reclaimed wood standing desk we recommend opting for the slightly pricier but far more durable Surf(x) 3D laminates featuring reclaimed wood images.

lander l-shaped desk hardwood
For solid wood desktops be sure to avoid alcohol-based cleaners that can dull waterborne finishes, and stick to Clorox wipes for disinfection.

How to Disinfect Your Workstation Using the Most Commonly Available Items

Use isopropyl alcohol (aka rubbing alcohol) to kill bacteria and viral contamination like the coronavirus, without damaging HPL and other hearty surfaces.

For all other desktop materials the best solution is usually to use Clorox wipes. There’s a caveat, though. Many people think a quick wipe-down with a disinfectant wipe will do the trick, but according to Clorox you need to “Use enough wipes for the treated surface to remain visibly wet for 4 minutes. AND let the surface dry.” A quick wipe-down will clean a surface, removing dirt and some germs, but won’t truly disinfect. Make sure you are using them properly to ensure your workstation is protected, and don’t forget to include other items you touch like your mouse, phone, headset and keyboard.

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