How to Disinfect Your Home -- Naturally

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Simon and Schuster author Ellen Sandback shared this guest blog post, an elegant and simple solution to killing bacteria in your home, from her book, Green Housekeeping .

Susan Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, contaminated fruits and vegetables with salmonella, shigella, or E. Coli bacteria, then sprayed the produce with hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or both. Hydrogen peroxide was one hundred times as effective as vinegar, but vinegar and hydrogen peroxide worked together to kill ten times as many bacteria as were killed by peroxide alone.

This is a very elegant and simple solution to a vexing problem. The bacteria are not just moved around to cause trouble elsewhere; they are—to paraphrase from the movie The Wizard of Oz—not just merely dead, they are really, most sincerely, dead.

Implementing a Domestic Spray Program
I have been using this dual spray system for years, and frankly, it couldn’t be easier. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are natural substances that are produced by living organisms. Our own bodies produce hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as a byproduct of metabolism. Hydrogen peroxide is essentially a water molecule with an extra oxygen atom attached. When hydrogen peroxide is exposed to heat, light, or organic material, it releases its extra oxygen; pure water and oxygen are produced by this reaction. Pure oxygen is extremely toxic to microorganisms, which is why hydrogen peroxide is such an effective antiseptic. It is rather gratifying to watch hydrogen peroxide bubbling and foaming as it kills bacteria; when the bubbling stops and cannot be restarted by the addition of more peroxide, the dead is done.

Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are utterly harmless to humans, pets and the environment. The dual sprays don’t linger on surfaces, so rinsing is unnecessary, and microbes can’t acquire resistance to them.

Setting Up the System
  1. Buy two plastic spray bottles in two different colors. One bottle must be completely opaque, and as dark a color as you can find. (My bottle is black.) This dark opaque bottle is for the hydrogen peroxide, which degrades if it is exposed to light or heat.

    Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide cannot be kept in the same bottle because hydrogen peroxide is delicate and readily breaks down into pure water.

  2. Buy a big bottle of consumer strength (3 percent) hydrogen peroxide at the drug store or grocery store. Fill your dark spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and store it in a cool, dark place. (Do no attempt to use laboratory strength -- 30 percent -- hydrogen peroxide. It is a very strong oxidizer that starts fires.)

  3. Buy a gallon of distilled white vinegar at the grocery store.

Using the System
  1. Disinfecting raw foods:
    When you are washing fruits and vegetables, rinse off the dirt and grit, then spray them with vinegar and then with hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide, which has no taste, rinses the vinegar off the produce. No further rinsing is necessary.

    Spray red meat, fish, or poultry with vinegar, then with hydrogen peroxide. No rinsing is necessary.

  2. Disinfecting processed foods:
    If you are really worried about germs, you can spray down your food packaging when you bring it home. (Waterproof packing only, please!) Dry the package with a clean, dry kitchen towel after you spray. This will work for milk cartons and bottles, yogurt containers, cheese, and processed meat packaging. Do not spray any type of cardboard. It is not waterproof and is also very dry, and hence probably sterile.

    I do not spray all the food packaging I bring into the house because I believe in giving my immune system a chance to flex its muscles. But if I find that meat juice has leaked onto a yogurt container on the way home, I will certainly wash off the yogurt container and spray it with the dual sprays.

  3. After you clean meat, fish, or poultry, wash the sink with a dish cloth and dish liquid, then wring out the cloth before you throw it in the kitchen laundry basket. (I usually hang damp kitchen towels on the side of the kitchen laundry basket to dry.) Next, spray the sink with one bottle, then the other. Use the sprays on any handles and doorknobs you touched while your hands were full of meat juice. If you dislike the lingering smell of vinegar, spray vinegar first, then chase it with hydrogen peroxide.

  4. Use the sprays to disinfect the countertops, refrigerator, stovetop, or any other kitchen surface that worries you. There’s no need to rinse afterward.

    Do not use these sprays on marble countertops. Vinegar dissolves marble, and hydrogen peroxide may damage it. Clean your marble countertops with dish soap and water. (Vinegar dissolves calcium-based stone, such as marble, limestone, dolomite, and calcite and may etch the surface of other natural stone.)

Get more tips on how to live a clean and healthy life in Sandbeck's Green Housekeeping.

About the Author
Ellen Sandbeck is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures -- which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms -- in Duluth, Minnesota. She is the author of "Green Housekeeping" and "Green Barbarians."

Take a look inside the book "Green Housekeeping.”

Have you ever tried this approach to cleaning? Will you?

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Sounds interesting, but I need to keep my immune system active. Report
Good valuable information that is economically cheap. Report
Great ideas! Thanks! Report
An excellent article! Report
Very good info! Thanks! Report
Though many have mentioned not using peroxide on food I feel it could be safer than the stuff used like Dettol etc Report
very interesting thanks! Report
I also use peroxide to dab on fabric to remove fresh blood from an article of clothing Report
I've used both products for years and we've stayed fairly healthy through the various flu seasons. I also like putting in some essential oils like peppermint or lavendar in with the vinegar water combo and that adds some additional cleansing and sanitizing power.

Also I have noticed that some brands of hydrogen peroxide (like at Walmart and Target etc) are now produced in their own dark brown opaque spray bottle !! Yippee yay! I bought 3 or 4 of them - one for each of the bathrooms and one for kitchen, and then I take advantage of sales on the big bottles, using them to refill the smaller spray bottles. They are about 8 oz, and you DO need to keep the spray tip turned "off" when not in use, because they will evaporate out faster! :( Report
I found it very interesting how using these 2 things together can clean and disenfect..But Im a bit scepticle if this will actually clean and sanitize the bathroom? Will it really clean those sensitive areas like the toilet and bath tub? Report
For quite awhile I have used nothing but peroxide and vinegar on everything from counter and stove tops to veggies and fruits to the toilet. I love that it is non toxic so I don't have to worry if I accidentally get it in or on something I didn't intend to get it in/on. I will never go back to commercially prepared, potentially toxic (or questionable) cleaners. Report
This exact type of cleaning has been done for years in commercial applications, you would be amazed at how many applications it has. Report
"the dead is done. " -- tee hee! Freudian slip?

I find it ironic that she spends all this time telling us how to kill bacteria, but on one point she says "I do not spray all the food packaging I bring into the house because I believe in giving my immune system a chance to flex its muscles." Riiightttt. Then why did you spend about 800 words telling us how to kill germs?

For those of you rinsing meat: there's pretty good evidence that all this does is spread the pathogens around your sink and etc. Since you're going to be cooking it anyway, you'd be better off not washing it. Report
Great article and tons of great comments. Thanks for all the info everyone. For meat, just spray vinegar on it? Does it need to sit or soak? I love that idea. Report
Just be careful about using the hydrogen peroxide around any dish towels you don't want bleached out! Report
Sounds like a great idea, with concerns about food safety, and I'm not into having to buy another special vegetable rinse. Report
I have used vinegat ot clean all sorts of things in my home, it's cheaper, safer, and doesn't make your whole house stick like bleach does. Report
I use alcohol to clean my countertops and sinks. I thought this was a good disinfectant... now I'm wondering if I was right. Does anyone else use it? Report
Cool, I just ordered the book "Green Housekeeping"! Report
Hydrogen peroxide already works wonders for my acne.
The "avoid rinsing" advice is strange. Report
I do use vinegar for washing my produce but had never known about the peroxide. Never considered washing meat or fish with it either. I will try this but if it taste weird I'll just go back to what I did before: wash with vinegar and rinse off with water. Report
After spraying lettuce I would absolutely re-rinse with water. Sorry, but any lingering H2O2 or vinegar would not be good to have around. And as for the statement that H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) is completely safe, well, that's not true. No, it's not going to kill you - but it is toxic and that's exactly why it kills bacteria. A 3% solution (what you get at the drug store) is mild, but if you drank the bottle you'd get sick. I might try it to clean stuff but I would absolutely rinse any leftovers off afterwards. Report
Thank you for the article. I learned a whole lot here. Especially that I don't have to rely on the name brand items. Report
Very good article. Learned some new facts about cleaning fresh food. Report
Good information. I will try those for cleaning countertops etc, but not for food, and veggies. It certainly sounds less expensive than the greenworks I have been buying. Report
Anyone who's ever rinsed with hydrogen peroxide knows that it tastes terrible, so I'm not so sure about not having to rinse it off my produce after using it. Report
Same here, I ALWAYS washed my meat when I ate it. You never know what it had been exposed to around. Nasty, especially chicken and Salmonella. Double nasty. I would advise anyone who eats it to wash it..........period. Report
Great article. I usually used vinegar and baking soda to disinfect my sinks and cut down on drain odor. I will try using peroxide.

Yes, I have always washed my meats since you never know where your meat has been exposed to. Who doesn't wash their meats....that's gross! Report
HAHA love this idea, but yeah i agree washing meat? but the counter tops and fruit is a very very very good idea!!! Report
seriously who "washes" their meat and fish? for real? Report
I love this book, and use the methods in it on a daily basis. Here's a tip that I figured out. Instead of buying an opaque bottle, you can buy two cheap 32 oz bottles, and a 16 or 32 oz bottle of peroxide. Use one bottle for the vinegar. Take the sprayer from the second bottle and cut the sprayer tube to fit in the 16 oz bottle of peroxide. Remove the cap of the peroxide, and replace it with the sprayer. Just make sure you keep the nozzle tight so the peroxide doesn't loose it's power. Report
I already had a bottle of vinegar - I like that it makes cleaning easy and cheap and no strong smells. I LIKE the peroxide mixture - I'm a chemist geek, so I'm definitely going to try it. I'll probably try to recycle/reuse a spray nozzle that fits right on my peroxide (dark) bottle.... I love being GREEN and health! Report
i LOVED this information! thank you! Report
I'm with Jibbie on the germ issue. I've also read articles about how living with animals can really help your immune system (one particularly memorable one came to the conclusion that we would all be a lot healthier if we lived with a cow in the living room--so not just house pets). Plus, a lot of kids are getting sick now because they have been so petted and protected from infancy that their immune systems don't have a chance. This can also lead to allergies.
Yes, it is important to be careful. The infant mortality rate is much better than it was even a hundred years ago, but I'm not sure there is a perfect solution.
I do prefer this to using chemical cleaners (I have multiple allergies and chemical sensitivities so can't use them anyway) and have used vinegar for years. I'm not sure I can get hydrogen peroxide where I live, but I wouldn't mind having it for certain areas like the toilet and bathroom.
So, my opinion is: yes, these are good cleaners and I will probably use them a bit more because of this article. But I'm not going to go crazy with them. "Everything in moderation." Report
I'm not that worried about germs as I keep things clean enough. I just read an article that kids raised on farms around animals have a better immune system than kids raised in cities with extra hygiene. Apparently, exposure to germs makes you have more response to them. Report
This is a great article. I've used vinegar to clean as well as marinate meat but never would have imagined using peroxide to clean. I think I'll start with my countertops and door knobs and handles then on to my fruits. Even though my fruits and veggies are organic you never know who came in contact with it. This was reallly helpful. It will definitly come in handy when it comes time to disinfect. Report
The first responder to this blog gagged at the thought of vinegar and peroxide. Peroxide is in so many household items already. As a child we would brush our teeth with peroxide, it left a funny feeling in your mouth but it sure cleaned your teeth. As for vinegar if more people used it in the US on their meats, salmonella wouldn't be an issue. In the Caribbean, we wash all our meat with lime or vinegar before preparation. Report
I like the cleaning ideas but i sure am not going to was my meat with anyting like that no way vinagar on meat no thanks Report
Awesome! I've used hydrogen peroxide to clean spots off eggs, too (nice if you raise chickens, who are not the tidiest creatures).

One correction, though: Hydrogen peroxide is not "utterly harmless to humans." Laboratory strength Hydrogen peroxide will take the hide right off of you. But the 3% solution you buy in the pharmacy is fine, although it is toxic if swallowed, so I'd rinse it off anything I was going to eat. Report
I've used both but not together and not on food. I'm not too concerned about food that is going to be cooked to 160 degrees but it sounds good for raw foods or rare meats.

I also use white vinegar instead of fabric softener. And used baking soda plus vinegar to clear clogged drains. Report
there are so many wonderful uses for vinegar--glad to know peroxide works well with it! Report
I use regular dish soap for cleaning the counter top, also but the bath tub is a subject of concern when you need to make sure it is clean enough for the next wash! That would be another,"don't want to go there again", subject, when muddy feet get to the tub before you do! I would rather experience the "cleaner water act", so to say, than the ring around the tub! Prayers, help a lot, too! Report
This is amazing! I have already sent it to my friends on facebook! Report
When our large dog got triple-threat sprayed by a FAMILY of skunks, the local groomer told me to bring a quart of peroxide, 1/2c baking soda; they provided the Dawn dishwashing liquid. I brought a couple cups of the soda just in case, but our pooch did not smell at all, after 6 hours of being with them. They used that formula, then washed her again with their doggie soap.
As far as peroxide being "natural",, hydrogen and oxygen are elements! Hydrogen is a water component and oxygen goes without saying, unless somebody has invented something else to breathe!
Read a label on any overpriced cleaning product on any shelf and see how many ingredients occur in nature! Report
I think this is a wonderful idea. Some may think it is overkill but do you know how many different people handle fruit and vegetables at the super market and really do you know if they wash their hands after leaving the rest room. Cannot count how many people I have seen leave a public restroom without washing their hands...ewe! Also, unless you home grow your own the chemicals that are sprayed etc. Report
Valuable information - thanks. However, I have found that freaking out about germs is becoming a national pastime. We've never been healthier since I stopped buying commercial cleaners and antibacterial products. We use all cleaners (baking soda, vinegar, peroxide, vegetable-based soaps) and buy most of our food directly from farmers who use safe, sustainable methods. I don't feel the need to "sanitize" my produce or my meat. Yikes - if you feel it's so unsafe, why buy it? Report
In my house "NEVER going to happen." Report
yeah...clean meat. yeah.
I would hope that one would wash and pat dry before cooking anyway.
The other suggestions seem sound. Report
I have to agree with others. I'll be using these to clean, but I won't be using them to wash my food. Overkill and not at all appetizing! Report
I have used both solutions separately for various cleaning and disinfecting but never together like this. I will be trying it. Report