In the United States, sanitizing products must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their disinfecting properties. COVID-19 or the coronavirus is absolutely everywhere and as outbreaks trend upwards, folks are panicking. Every day, people are making supermarket runs in hopes of stocking up on anything they believe is a disinfectant that will kill the virus. Retailers are either low in stock or completely out of sanitizing agents.
Transmission of the coronavirus from contaminated surfaces has not yet been documented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but current evidence does suggest the virus can remain viable “for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”
If you’re unsure about which disinfectants actually sanitize, well, here you go:
Soap and water: “Handwashing is like a do-it-yourself vaccine,” according to the CDC. Washing with plain soap and water has been shown to reduce bacterial presence on hands by 82%, and studies upon studies point to the beneficial health impacts of washing with plain soap. If you are desperately searching for antibacterial soap these days, don’t bother. Many scientists have actually sounded the alarm about the overuse of these antibacterial soaps because they do not eradicate all germs and offer no additional protection from viruses.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), manufacturers of these antibacterial soaps have failed to prove that their products are more effective than just plain soap and water in putting the brakes on the spread of certain infections. “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”
Rubbing Alcohol: This is an antiseptic that has been around for eons. Ethyl alcohols in particular has been proven to be effective against viruses like the coronavirus (but not noroviruses that can cause vomiting and diarrhea), funguses and bacteria. Isopropyl is even more effective against bacteria. For disinfecting surfaces, the CDC recommends a base concentration of 70 percent to kill germs from the coronavirus, and 60 percent if it’s being used as a hand sanitizer. The alcohol should be left on a surface for at least 30 seconds in order for it to be fully effective. In fact, your phone likely carries more germs than a toilet seat, and it’s often overlooked when cleaning. The tech giant, Apple, updated its phone-cleaning instructions, recommending “a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes” to wipe down the phone’s exterior, avoiding getting moisture in the openings.
Vodka: There are recipes all over the internet touting vodka as a coronavirus killer. FAKE NEWS! A couple of vodka manufacturers, including Tito’s, have already come out with statements telling their customers that their 80-proof product does not contain enough ethyl alcohol (40 percent compared with the 70 percent required) to kill the coronavirus. So take heed!
Vinegar: The acetic acid in vinegar does have some germ-killing properties but this solution is not an EPA-registered household disinfectant. Vinegar has been shown to have some disinfectant properties. For example, a 2010 study found 10% malt vinegar to be effective against the flu virus, and a 2014 study published in a journal of the American Society for Microbiology found a 10% solution can kill the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
“While vinegar carries some disinfectant properties, it is not as effective as standard household cleaners,” says Alex Berezow, Ph.D. and vice president of scientific communications for the American Council on Science and Health. According to the CDC, vinegar is not potent enough to effectively disinfect surfaces. “If vinegar is the only thing you have, then I guess give it a shot,” Dr. Berezow says. “But it’s certainly not difficult to find soap for your hands, or bleach or alcohol solutions for countertops.”
Hydrogen Peroxide: According to the CDC, household (3 percent) hydrogen peroxide has antimicrobial properties is an effective disinfectant against rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, within 6 to 8 minutes of exposure. Believe it or not, rhinovirus is more difficult to destroy than coronaviruses. Pour it undiluted into a spray bottle and spray it on the surface to be cleaned, but let it sit on the surface for at least 1 minute.
Baking Soda: We have all used baking soda at one time or another as a household cleaner but a disinfectant, it is not! It cannot kill bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and staphylococcus. If a surface has been contaminated with any of these bacteria, then reach for a disinfectant that is sure to break it up.
Ammonia: This environmentally-friendly cleaner is also not a registered disinfectant wth the EPA. The cleaner may kill such germs as foodborne pathogens like salmonella and E. coli but as far as shutting down viruses and bacteria? NOT!
Windex: This is a popular glass cleaner but is it a disinfectant? Windex makes about twelve different products. The one Windex product that is categorized as a disinfectant and is a registered product by the EPA is Windex Disinfectant Multi-Surface Cleaner. It kills 99.9% of germs, including viruses and bacteria like staphylococcus, salmonella, strep, E. coli, listeria, rhinovirus and flu on hard, non-porous surfaces.
Bleach: An inexpensive and highy effective solution, bleach is an effective disinfectant. It kills some of the most dangerous bacteria, including staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. coli and salmonella — as well as many viruses, including the flu and the common cold. It should also work on the novel coronavirus, according to the CDC, which notes that “unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.” Bleach and bleach alternatives are intended to disinfect surfaces and should not be used on the skin. Never combine it with ammonia or ammonia-based cleaners. It should also be used with care as it is an irritant to eyes, skin, mouth and throat, but also contributes to long-term respiratory problems like asthma.
Tea Tree Oil: This natural, biodegradable antiseptic is useful for treating minor cuts and wounds. It may not be strong enough to kill viruses and more powerful bacteria.
Lysol Spray: This popular and well-established company manufacturers several disinfecting products that run-the-gamut from sprays, to wipes, to foams. Many of their disinfecting products meet the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19.
The Lysol sprays are popular choices for many looking to do some quick sanitizing. For areas like your couch and carpet that can’t be wiped down, you can use a sweeping motion to disinfectant germs. You can also spray down countertops, mattresses and tables. Try aiming the disinfecting spray into a paper towel to wipe down sink handles and other smaller surfaces.