Greener and Greater Disinfectants

February 22, 2011 at 5:32 am 12 comments

Store bought disinfectants used in cleaning can contain all sorts of nasty chemicals, some of which should really only be used in controlled settings such as hospitals. One of the reasons for this is that when used around the home inappropriately, they can actually help bacteria become resistant to the chemical, creating superbugs.

What’s in them?
Disinfectants can contain quaternary ammonium compounds such as benzalkonium chloride, pine oil, alcohol, ethanol, phenol or derivatives of phenol, cresol, TCE, PDCBs, butyl cellosolve, detergents and formaldehyde.

What Harm Do They Do?
Disinfectant ingredients are designed to kill germs, so they’re often toxic in nature because of this “killing” aspect. A disinfectant may not seem harmful to humans if diluted or exposure is limited. But, historically speaking, there have been several incidents where a chemical disinfectant had been thought to be okay for use and then its toxicity was discovered. Disinfectants are known to be quite irritating to the eyes, skin, and particularly the nose. Concentrated solutions of quaternary ammonium compounds can destroy the mucous membranes. It’s surprising how much chemical we can absorb by simply breathing the fumes in an enclosed area. Ingestion can cause burns in the throat. Phenols and cresols are expecially toxic. Although many companies have phased out these chemicals in disinfectants, you can still find them in some older formulations. All phenols are corrosive and damaging to the skin and eyes, and prolonged exposure can lead to liver and kidney damage. Disinfectants can also destroy the balance in your septic system and make it difficult for the treatment  of your water waste.

Environmental Implications
Some of the chemicals used in commercial preparations can also have a negative effect on aquatic life as water treatment facilities can’t filter them out. A chemical of particular concern is triclosan. Used in everything from bar soaps to toothpaste, it can also be found in some commercial disinfectants. According to Beyond Pesticides, researchers who added triclosan to river water and shined ultra violet light on the water found that between one and twelve percent of the triclosan was converted to dioxin. In a U.S. Geological Survey study of 95 different organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, triclosan was one of the most frequently detected compounds. Many disinfectants contain ingredients that are federally classified as hazardous and should not be thrown into the ordinary trash. They should be used or poured down the drain with lots of water.

Use Lysol?
Disinfectant sprays like Lysol are particularly deceiving because many people try to use them to disinfect and freshen the air. If you look closely at the can, Lysol is recommended for use on surfaces only. Any disinfectant is effective at killing germs for only a very short time. A few minutes later, more germs will come flying out of a coughing mouth or sneezing nose. Most health experts agree that one of the best ways to control airborne viruses is to open a window! Consumer Reports Books says: “It’s really not possible to prevent the spread of germs in the house by using a disinfectant.” In addition, the active ingredients in many spray disinfectants are registered pesticides, and the ethanol (alcohol) they are suspended in is known to be irritating to the eyes, nose and throat.

Do we really need to spray little bits of pesticide and alcohol in the air just to make sure we don’t spread germs to each other? To reduce the spreading of germs, most doctors recommend (especially for children) fresh air; frequent hand washing; the washing of toys, telephones, or other frequently touched items; and the isolation of the sick from the healthy.

Isn’t it Important to Disinfect When we Clean?
Maybe we don’t really need to super-disinfect. Antiseptics were life-saving developments for wartime wounds and peacetime surgeries. Keeping germs under control in medical and hospital setting can make a significant difference between life and death. But most germs can’t be controlled because the majority of them are airborne, constantly reproducing or renewed, and always invisibly transferred. Modern science hasn’t gotten rid of germs, disease, or death. No wonder we’re still scared of germs.
But we live with germs; we breathe germs and eat germs. Some are bad, but some are also very, very good. If we killed off all the germs we live with, we would get very, very sick. Staying healthy may have a lot more to do with living a balanced, natural life (pure foods, clean air, water, and rest) than with killing off “dangerous” germs.

The Truth
Cleaning companies use the word disinfectant on their product labels because it seems to have such a magical power to get you to buy. The practical reality of disinfectning is this: in most cases, hot or warm water, a cleaner (soap and/or mild abrasive), and some good “mechanical action” is all you really need! It’s the frequency and regularity of cleaning that probably has the most significant health effect.

So What Now?
But what about toilets? What about those icky, moldy, bacteria-filled places? What about food surfaces, sick rooms, garbage, toilet overflows, urine, animal and human feces? It’s important to have a disinfecting cleaner for these tasks, something that gets things super-clean and has extra germ-killing action.

1. Tea Tree Oil
Derived from the tea tree found in the outbacks of Australia, this oil has the remarkable qualities of being a powerful antiseptic without the usually associated toxicity. Known as the first-aid kit in a bottle, it is an excellent antiseptic. It smells super clean and works great with many other homemade cleaning recipes. Tea tree oil is in the process of being registered as a disinfectant in this country. So we can’t quite legally say it is a disinfectant yet! But it has been known for many years in Australia as an excellent disinfectant. No matter what the claims are, you can still get the same wonderful tea tree oil at your local health-food store. If you take the Australian’s word for it, you, too can enjoy its anti-germ qualities.

Liquid soap, purified water and tea tree oil.

A 16 oz. squirt or spray bottle.

Fill the bottle almost full with water and then add 3 tbsp. of liquid soap to prevent the bottle from sudsing up as you fill. Because minerals inhibit the cleaning action of soap, it’s best to use purified or distilled water for this recipe, especially if you have hard water. Add 20-30 drops or more of tea tree oil for antiseptic power. Shake to mix. We recommend unscented or eucalyptus-scented liquid soap for this recipe.

How to Use: Squirt this wonderfully safe alternative on floors, laundry, toys, doorknobs, bathtubs, toilet seats, and more. You may use it to clean up after the nasties like urine, toiolet bowl overflows, vomit and more unmentionables.

Other Disinfectant alternatives:

2. Eucalyptus oil & water
Simply mix 1.6 oz of eucalyptus oil with a litre of water.
Be sure to shake well before use and use as you would a store bought disinfectant.

3. Grapefruit Seed Extract Disinfectant Spray

1 gallon warm water
20 drops grapefruit seed extract
Mix and pour in a spray bottle

4. Vinegar
You can add a few drops of essential oil to mask the smell.

5. Hydrogen peroxide (3%)

6. Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide
(not mixed, but one after the other) – produces a super effective disinfecting clean!

-3 % Hydrogen Peroxide
-plain white or apple cider vinegar
– 2 new clean sprayers.

This pair works exceptionally well in sanitizing counters and other food preparation surfaces, including wood cutting boards. In tests run at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, pairing the two mists killed virtually ALL Salmonella, Shigella, or E. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces when used in this fashion, making this spray combination moreeffective at killing these potentially lethal bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.

The best results came from using one mist right after another – it is 10x more effective than using either spray by itself and more effective than mixing the vinegar and hyrdogen peroxide in one sprayer.
WARNING: Don’t mix the Hydrogen Peroxide & Vinegar into one sprayer.
The resulting chemical, peracetic acid, can harm you when mixed together this way if you accidentally create a strong concentration in this fashion. Peracetic acid also has entirely different characteristics and properties than either hydrogen peroxide or vinegar and it might not work as effective.

You even use this combination to clean vegetables or fruit, just spritz them well first with both the vinegar and the hydrogen peroxide, and then rinse them off under running water. It doesn’t matter which you use first, you can spray with the vinegar, then the hydrogen peroxide or vice versa. You won’t get any lingering smell of vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, and neither is toxic to you if a small amount remains on the produce.

7. Grain alcohol is another great disinfectant. Mix it with 30% water to stop it from evaporating too quickly (or even cheap vodka!)

If you have some earth friendly disinfectant tips you’d like to share; please add them below!

Entry filed under: Home and Health, Natural Cleaning, Sustainability & Lifestyle. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Balpreet  |  May 17, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Nice article!

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  • 2. Mary Dianne Augustave  |  January 8, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I would like to know where I can purchase a glass sprayer.

    • 3. smartklean  |  January 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Hi Mary, you can research DIY glass sprayers online and avoid buying toxic products from the stores. We make our own glass sprayer and use microfiber cloths to clean our windows and mirrors. Hope this helps!

  • 4. The 12 Worst Cancer-Causing Products In Your Home |  |  July 4, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    […] Labeled or Unlabeled Toxic Ingredient: ORTHOPHENYLPHENOL (OPP): Carcinogenic; irritant. (Carcinogenicity is denied in Material Safety and Data Sheet.) See article on the truth about disinfectants and suggested alternatives! […]

  • […] Labeled or Unlabeled Toxic Ingredient: ORTHOPHENYLPHENOL (OPP): Carcinogenic; irritant. (Carcinogenicity is denied in Material Safety and Data Sheet.) See article on the truth about disinfectants and suggested alternatives! […]

  • […] Labeled or Unlabeled Toxic Ingredient: ORTHOPHENYLPHENOL (OPP): Carcinogenic; irritant. (Carcinogenicity is denied in Material Safety and Data Sheet.) See article on the truth about disinfectants and suggested alternatives! […]

  • […] Labeled or Unlabeled Toxic Ingredient: ORTHOPHENYLPHENOL (OPP): Carcinogenic; irritant. (Carcinogenicity is denied in Material Safety and Data Sheet.) See article on the truth about disinfectants and suggested alternatives! […]

  • 8. Billie Haffey  |  January 30, 2012 at 12:00 am

    I would like to point out that your reference to disinfectants as pesticides needs a little more information. The US EPA requires all disinfectants to be registered as pesticides. A disinfectant by its very nature, kills bugs. Bacteria, viruses, germs are all things that disinfectants kill, therefore they are required to be registered as pesticides. This is not to be confused with spraying a can of Raid on your counter top. It is simply a definition of the action of the product according to the EPA. There are safe to use disinfectants available on the market today and hopefully there will be less dangerous chemicals saturating the market in the future. I hope you will visit We are a small company, especially when compared to the manufacturers of Lysol, the largest manufacturer of household cleaning products in the world, but we are making a difference in the production of a safe to use disinfectant. I appreciate your blog and will continue to follow your posts.

  • […] Labeled or Unlabeled Toxic Ingredient: ORTHOPHENYLPHENOL (OPP): Carcinogenic; irritant. (Carcinogenicity is denied in Material Safety and Data Sheet.) See article on the truth about disinfectants and suggested alternatives! […]

  • 10. Shannon  |  April 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Silly question, but is Eucalyptus essential oil the same as Eucalyptus oil??? Thank you!!

    • 11. Acuman  |  May 6, 2011 at 10:42 pm

      No! Eucalyptus oil is not as expensive as the essential oil products.

      • 12. dlmbrt  |  January 20, 2012 at 8:37 pm

        The eucalyptus oil mentioned is eucalyptus essential oil. Oils with eucalyptus scent fall into the same category as Pine-Sol. It’s not expensive.

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