Health & Wellness Articles

How to Safely Disinfect Your Home

What You Don't Know about Killing Germs

48SHARES
Read the labels on your cleaning products carefully to learn which functions they can perform and how to properly use them. For example, aerosol spray disinfectants can't clean, but some can sanitize. Disinfecting wipes are designed to clean, sanitize and disinfect--but only if you use an adequate amount and allow the product to dry on the surface for a specific amount of time. Follow package instructions to ensure the outcome you intend is actually achieved.

Due to the relative fragility of viruses outside the human body, standard cleaning and disinfecting routines are sufficient; there's no need to scrub every surface from floor to ceiling or aggressively use spray disinfectants to kill these common germs. In fact, overuse of any harsh chemicals--especially those in aerosol cans--can irritate eyes, noses and throats already sensitive from a cold or the flu, and they can aggravate asthma or cause breathing problems. Limit aerosol sprays to tight spaces where other disinfectants wouldn't be a feasible option; always use in a well-ventilated area.

What about Antibacterial Products?
Because antibiotics can't kill the viruses that cause cold and flu, that also means the antibacterial ingredients in soaps, cleansers and wipes will not kill those viruses, either, though the simple act of cleaning does help reduce their numbers. Since 2002, the American Medical Association has discouraged the use of consumer antimicrobial products (including soaps) due to the widespread risk of antibiotic resistance. In 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee ruled that there is a lack of evidence supporting the superiority of antibacterial products over regular cleaning products.

What about Natural Cleaning and Disinfecting Methods?
While natural ingredients, such as peroxide, vinegar, salt, baking soda and lemon juice, can clean surfaces effectively, most have not been proven to kill the germs that cause the flu and colds.
  • According to a 2010 study published in the journal PLOS One, vinegar with 10% acidity was effective in deactivating the flu virus. Most household vinegars are 5% acidity. And while vinegar is effective at killing the three common bacteria that cause food poisoning (E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella) when heated to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not an EPA-registered disinfectant and cannot kill cold and flu viruses on its own. 
  • A 2006 clinical review of tea tree oil in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews found that while plenty of lab studies support the plant derivative's antimicrobial properties and its ability to assist in treating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, there is a dearth of clinical evidence demonstrating efficacy against bacterial, fungal or viral infections. Tea tree oil has not been proven to kill cold and flu viruses in clinical studies. 
  • Oil of oregano has been shown to be an effective antimicrobial additive to soaps and surface cleaners, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology; in addition, the essential oil was found to be effective in killing the influenza virus when taken orally, according to a 2012 study published in the same journal. However, that doesn't prove that oregano oil will disinfect and kill cold and flu germs on surfaces. 
  • Steam cleaners can effectively remove dirt and debris from floors without using detergents; however, even models that boast the ability to disinfect cannot kill influenza or rhinovirus without an additional disinfecting solution.
     
  • Read labels on any sanitizers labeled as "natural" or chemical-free. Most still use alcohol, which does sanitize. But to be effective, the product must contain at least 60% alcohol. If you don't see that amount on the label, keep looking.
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

Member Comments

  • As a former food service grunt, I say brava to the lesson on the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing~ - 11/12/2014 6:19:46 AM
  • CARROL63
    Thank you I'll write more later the library is kicking me out. - 9/19/2014 9:48:09 PM
  • VAINVT
    Thanks so much for this article. I am very conscious of not using disinfectants that are too strong, so learning what to clean helps me a lot. - 5/1/2014 8:13:52 AM
  • I agree with Lola. This was an excellent article, and very useful. - 2/16/2014 1:09:50 PM
  • LOLA_LALA
    Stepfanie, thumbs up and a big pat on the back for a truly well-researched, highly useful (especially right now, at the height of flu season) article! Have been using baking soda and vinegar in the kitchen for a long time because I really don't want chemicals around - or especially in - our food, and so far, so good (knocking on wood)! - 1/26/2014 1:07:41 PM

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