Safe and Effective Use of Cleaners and Disinfectants

Before discussing how to clean and disinfect surfaces it’s important to understand some terminology. Cleaners are products that remove dirt or contaminants (including germs) from surfaces. Soaps and detergents also attack the lipid membrane of some viruses (part of the reason that washing your hands with soap and water is effective) but in this brief “how to” summary, the primary purpose of the cleaner is to remove dirt as well as contaminants. Disinfectants destroy or inactivate germs on surfaces and prevent them from growing.  Disinfectants do not clean the surface or even necessarily remove the inactivated germs.

Disinfectants are registered pesticides – registered by the US EPA.  Disinfectant products are meant to be used on surfaces, not on people, not sprayed into the air, which can be a health hazard.  In Ohio, a pesticide license would only be required to use a restricted use disinfectant, not for common household disinfectants. For disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, see EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2

To use disinfectants safely, as with any pesticide, READ THE DISINFECTANT LABEL. Use only EPA-registered disinfectants. Disinfectant choice is an important consideration for people with health conditions – some disinfectants may exacerbate asthma or other health conditions. Provide adequate ventilation, wear gloves to protect the skin, – both gloves and eye protection if using bleach, plus any other PPE required by label. Do not mix disinfectants together, or with other substances.  For example, mixing bleach with ammonia produces a toxic gas.

Before disinfecting, CLEAN the surface thoroughly with soap or detergent, rinse, and dry – these three preliminary steps are important to remove dirt and contaminants that may interfere with the disinfectant. Don’t skip any of the steps! All are important – for example the drying step removes contaminants and residues.  Next, apply the disinfectant product following the label instructions. If the product is mixed with water, use the dilution recommended on the label.  Remember MORE IS NOT BETTER.  Thoroughly cover the surface and apply a sufficient amount so that the surface remains visibly wet for required contact time (anywhere from 15 seconds to 10 minutes depending on the product). If you are using disposable wipes, discard them in the trash, not the septic system. For surfaces used for food, be sure to rinse with a potable water source after disinfecting. When finished with the job, remove gloves and other PPE and thoroughly wash and dry the hands.

Much of this information was gleaned from an excellent webinar offered 4/9/2020- . Safe and Proper use of Disinfectants & Household Cleaners  hosted by the Partnership for Air Matters, with the Tribal Healthy Homes Network, the WA State Department of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, Center for Disease Control and Indian Health Service. See link below.

Disinfectant Webinar recording (Northern AZ Univ):

Other useful resources:

Cleaning and Disinfecting for Households – CDC

EPA Registered Disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

EPA Safer Choice Cleaning Product Search Engine (these not necessarily effective against SARS-CoV-2 )

Mary Ann Rose
Director, Pesticide Safety Education Program



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