I’ve put in countless hours. I’ve done all the necessary research. I now have all non-toxic cleaners in my home. I know what ingredients to keep an eye out for and avoid (ammonia, triclosan, phthalates, terpenes, and fragrances, etc.). These ingredients can cause respiratory issues such as asthma and disrupt the endocrine system. Then the corona chaos hits. Those cleaners that seemed so great a month ago…can they get the job done when it needs to be done most? What qualifies as a cleaner, sanitizer, and disinfectant? What is best to use and when? I, too, had to face each of these questions in recent days and hope to offer some helpful insight.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a cleaner removes dirt and impurities by removing them from the surface, a sanitizer is a product or device that reduces germs to a level considered safe by Public Health and Safety, and a disinfectant kills germs at 99.999% after a cleaner is first used to remove the dirt. A cleaner does not kill germs, but by removing them it lowers their numbers and reduces the risk of spreading infection. Once we know the definitions it seems like the obvious go-to product would be a disinfectant to kill the germs, but there are many other impacting factors.
A disinfectant kills germs, but also other bacteria including good bacteria that our bodies need to function well. Disinfectants can also contribute to the mutation of germs. The EPA explains, “because disinfectants are pesticides designed to kill or inactivate germs, you should make sure you need them for the specific task. The overuse and misuse of these products is a growing public health and environmental concern. Studies have found that the use of some disinfectant products is creating microbes that can mutate into forms that are resistant to particular disinfectants or that become superbugs. These resistant germs are also harder to kill with antibiotics.” With that being said there is a time and place where using a disinfectant is helpful and the best option. Here are some important questions to ask ourselves before picking up a disinfectant:
Is this a porous or nonporous surface?
A disinfectant should only be used on hard nonporous surfaces. Carpet, upholstery, and other porous surfaces cannot be disinfected with a chemical product.
Is this a high touch-point or low touch-point surface?
A disinfectant should be used on high touch-point surfaces including toilets, handles, doorknobs, faucets, sinks, keyboards, desks, and light switches. Be sure to always clean the surface before using a disinfectant. If an area is soiled it loses its ability to disinfect. For example, wash a counter with warm water and soap or spray with a cleaner, spray the disinfectant, and then wipe down.
How long do I let the disinfectant sit for before wiping?
Different active ingredients require different “dwell” times. The EPA has a list that outlines different disinfectants, the active ingredients, and the necessary time for them to be effective.
What is a nontoxic disinfectant option?
Hydrogen peroxide at the standard 3% is the safest alternative to chlorine bleaches and is on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 list. The time it needs to sit and dwell to effectively kill germs is listed by the EPA at ten minutes. After the ten minutes, you do not have to wipe it down as it decomposes into water and oxygen making it convenient to use on hard to reach places.
Disinfection kills germs, but it is described as temporary disinfecting because as soon as you touch the disinfected or sanitized surface germs start to grow there again. According to the CDC the best way to prevent the virus from being spread is to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water. If washing your hands is not an option use a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol which is the CDC’s requirement. If your hands are dirty it can prevent them from being cleaned effectively when you use the sanitizer which is why washing them is the ideal first action. A hand sanitizer is helpful when out on errands.
Selecting and using the least hazardous, yet most effective products, will protect the health of those in your home and also the environment. Three resources that are helpful to find the least hazardous products are three certification agencies called Eco Logo, Green Seal, and Design for the Environment. All of these agencies have a certified list of cleaning products. If a product does not list one of these certified agency names you want to look for the following:
- Ingredients listed on the label
- No signal word “danger” on the label
- “Signal words” on the label are used to indicate the product’s relative level of severity of hazard and alert the reader to a potential hazard.
- No overwhelming chemical odor
There is a time and a place for a cleaner, disinfectant, and sanitizer to be used. A cleaner for low touch-point surfaces and regular use, a disinfectant for high touch-point surfaces in your home, and a sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable for use, or products such as a steam mop. Researching and understanding this has helped me to be confident in the products I use that they can, in fact, get the job done if used properly. I hope it does the same for you as we hunker down and strive to keep our families safe.
Stay safe, be well, and clean away friends.