Thorough handwashing with soap —for at least 15 seconds — kills 90% of skin bacteria. However, for scrupulously cleaning and decontaminating other surfaces, disinfectants do a more efficient job. Disinfectants are designed to destroy microorganisms by breaking down the cell walls of the microbes they come into contact with.
These potent cleaners are used to sanitize hospitals, kitchens, bathrooms, and other commonly used areas. Disinfectants can be used on almost any surface, and they contain powerful ingredients. For human usage, sanitizers work better than disinfectants because they contain less harmful ingredients.
What Ingredients Make a Disinfectant?
Seeing as the main purpose of a disinfectant is to kill harmful bacteria, potent disinfectants will contain ingredients that focus on destroying microbes.
Common ingredients in EPA-registered disinfectants include:
- Isopropanol or ethanol (alcohol)
- Bleach or sodium hypochlorite
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Quaternary ammonium compounds
These ingredients effectively kill most bacteria, viruses, and fungi. However, it is important to note that they can be harmful if used in the wrong mixtures and at extremely high concentrations. Products containing these ingredients should be purchased and used with care.
What is the Most Powerful Disinfectant?
Ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol at concentrations of 60%-70% are highly effective at killing bacteria and viruses. The CDC even recommends cleaning products that contain at least 60% alcohol as a household cleaner. However, alcohol does have its limitation. Though it’s great at killing bacteria and viruses, it’s ineffective on protein-rich materials, and it’s not highly effective in destroying bacterial spores.
The good news is there’s another relatively safe and very potent ingredient that can be used as a disinfectant around the house – hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant that can destroy viruses, bacteria, spores, yeast, and fungus. In fact, many disinfectants that the FDA clears contain hydrogen peroxide as one of their main ingredients. This chemical works so well at disinfecting surfaces because it destroys essential bacterial cell components such as DNA and membrane lipids. Hydrogen peroxide should be used at a concentration of 3%-6% for best results.
Is Alcohol or Hydrogen Peroxide a Better Disinfectant?
Both ethyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are used in workplaces, hospitals, and homes to keep surfaces clean.
But which one is better?
In truth, both these disinfectants are highly effective, and a person should choose their ingredient based on what types of bacteria they are trying to remove and how quickly they need to get the job done.
Let’s examine the differences between the two disinfectants.
The main active ingredient in rubbing alcohol is isopropanol, and alcohol is generally 60%-80% of isopropanol in water. Rubbing alcohol is gentle enough to be used on the skin and still does a great job at killing bacteria. It also kills germs quickly and does not have to be left on surfaces for a long period to disinfect the area.
Most over-the-counter hydrogen peroxide contains 3% hydrogen peroxide dissolved in water. However, it’s not gentle enough to be used on the skin, so it cannot be used in sanitizers. Hydrogen peroxide also works best when it’s left on surfaces for at least 10 minutes, so it’s not ideal for quickly disinfecting an area.
In general, hydrogen peroxide is better for cleaning surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, and stainless steel, especially when they have more time on their hands. Rubbing alcohol is better for promptly cleaning the skin and delicate fabrics.
Both alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can kill many bacteria and viruses, including:
- E. coli
- Listeria monocytogenes found in contaminated foods
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Influenza viruses, such as H1N1
- Herpes simplex
How to Make a Natural Disinfectant?
Creating a natural disinfectant is a viable option for anyone who wants to keep their living space and surfaces free from germs and bacteria. Whether a disinfectant is needed to combat the flu or clean fabric, it’s possible to make a cost-effective and natural homemade solution.
White vinegar is one of the most effective natural disinfectants available. This powerful ingredient can be mixed with equal parts water and used as a natural sterilizer around the house. If white vinegar is used, keep the windows open as the smell can be overbearing for many. This ingredient should also not be used on granite or marble surfaces as the acid may damage them.
It is important to note that even though white vinegar does have potent antimicrobial properties, it’s not a registered disinfectant, according to Health Canada, so it should be used cautiously.
Can You Make Your Own Disinfectant Wipes?
If you’re having trouble finding disinfectant wipes because Clorox wipes are always out of stock, all hope is not lost. Did you know that you can actually make your own homemade Clorox wipes? These disinfectant wipes work just as well and can be used regularly, provided they are safely stored.
To make the wipes, follow these steps:
- Select a clean airtight container and label it so it’s clear it contains disinfectant wipes
- Pour rubbing alcohol into the container, leaving enough room for paper towels or cloth to fit in
- Submerge paper towels into the alcohol and close the lid of the container
- Let the paper towels soak in the container for at least five minutes before using.
Alternatively, instead of using paper towels or cloth, regular wipes can be submerged in the alcohol to turn them into disinfectant wipes.
Aside from using alcohol, bleach can also be used as a disinfectant agent. However, more care is required because this harsh chemical can discolor fabric and irritate the skin and eyes. If you choose to use a bleach solution, you’ll want to use four teaspoons of bleach per quart of water, and you should always wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from the irritating solution.
Can You Make Your Own Disinfectant Spray?
Just like disinfectant wipes, disinfectant sprays can be easily made at home. To make a disinfectant spray, the antiseptic solution must be placed in a spray bottle and then used as necessary.
The following solutions can be used to make an effective disinfectant spray:
- 70% rubbing alcohol
- 3% hydrogen peroxide
- White vinegar
It is especially important to note that these ingredients shouldn’t be blended together as they can be hazardous when mixed. Instead, three separate spray bottles should be filled with the above solutions and be used as antiseptic sprays.
If the spray is made with rubbing alcohol, it is gentle enough to also be used as a hand sanitizer.
DIY Disinfectant Spray with Essential Oils
Homemade disinfectant sprays can be further enhanced by adding essential oils to the solution. Many essential oils are known for having antimicrobial properties and are natural and safe to use on skin and other surfaces.
Essential oils contain phenolics alongside other antimicrobial properties, which makes them great at boosting a homemade disinfectant solution’s cleaning capacity. To enhance the effectiveness of a disinfectant spray, the following essential oils can be added into the mix:
- Clove essential oil (it kills bacteria through interacting with the bacterial cell membrane)
- Peppermint essential oil (it fights gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria)
- Tea tree essential oil (it is antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial)
A great recipe for a disinfectant spray with essential oils is:
- 100ml of alcohol (60% concentration or higher)
- 10 drops of any of the above-mentioned essential oils
Simply take these two ingredients and mix them in a spray bottle. This will create a potent and safe cleaning solution that can be used on nearly all surfaces.
When using essential oils, caution should always be employed, and the oils should be tested first to ensure a person does not have an allergic reaction to them. It’s important to note that many essential oils, including peppermint oil, are known to be toxic to cats and poisonous to dogs. So, pet owners should be wary when including these oil in their disinfectants.
Keep Bacteria Away Using Disinfectant Solutions
To keep a household or workplace clean and to reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria, disinfectant sprays and wipes are essential. However, if none of these products are available on the shelves or you want to pursue a more natural route to disinfecting, you can try creating their own disinfectant wipes and sprays at home.
Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, and white vinegar are all common household disinfectants, and when used the right way on the right surfaces, they can disinfect areas and keep them safe from viruses.