Are Disinfectants Necessary?

do not bleachWe hear these questions a lot: Is Red Juice a disinfectant? What about Simple Green, Fantastik or similiar all-purpose cleaners? The answer is no, they’re not. For regular housecleaning, disinfecting doesn’t work the way you probably think it does. Even when a communicable disease is loose in your home, the items to disinfect are the shared things, such as the phone, eating utensils, and so forth, not every surface in the house. Here’s why disinfecting isn’t usually helpful in a household setting:

1. Germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) need warmth and moisture to survive. Simply wiping with soap and water removes many of them: The very act of cleaning results in a clean and dry surface hostile to their growth.

2. Even if a disinfectant is used, because a home is not a sterile environment, germs start growing again almost immediately.

3. Most disinfectants have to be left wet on a surface for ten minutes or so to be effective anyway.

4. Disinfectants work because they are poisonous – not only to bacteria and viruses, but to larger living things, such as human beings. If you do use them, take steps to protect yourself (e.g., avoid breathing fumes and wear rubber gloves). Here’s what my friend Boston-area physician Geraldine Somers says on the subject: “In general, the health risks from many commonly used disinfectants hugely overbalance the almost imaginary risk from organisms they are intended to kill.” She adds, “As for toilet bowls, the bacteria in feces which causes disease have to be swallowed in order to cause infection – they don’t jump out of the toilet bowl at us. (By the way, most organisms are species specific, so dogs are safe drinking toilet water – unless of course the water is full of toxic cleaners and disinfectants.)”

My viewpoint is simple: Keep the house clean and don’t resort to routine use of disinfectants. Your home is not a hospital. That said, there is, as usual, another point of view. If you are one of those who believe you’re really not adequately cleaning if you aren’t slaughtering every last little bacterium as if you were Rambo himself, go right ahead. Two simple, effective, and inexpensive disinfectants are chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide – provided the surface will tolerate their bleaching effects. Geraldine reports that chlorine bleach kills bacteria, viruses (including HIV and hepatitis), fungi, and TB. Hydrogen peroxide (her favorite because it’s the safest disinfectant around) kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi, but it doesn’t kill TB. She also says that alcohol in 50 to 95 percent strength kills yeast, bacteria, many viruses, and TB, but it does not kill hepatitis B.

Leave a Reply