Cleanliness is Health!
By Nurse Mark
It’s a scary world right now, with a variety of very nasty infectious bugs out there: Enterovirus, D68, MRSA, H1N1, Ebola…
Since most of these things really don’t have good “treatments” avoidance is the best strategy for staying safe.
People ask us for our recommendations for cleaning and sterilizing in order to keep these bug at bay – knowing that we tend to prefer natural solutions to problems like this whenever possible.
There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of preparations, products, concoctions, formulas, and protocols that are recommended for disinfection. Many are complicated, expensive, dangerous, or effective only against very specific threats.
In general, we look for disinfectants that are easy to use, inexpensive, safe for people, pets, and the environment, and of course, effective.
Here are some of our thoughts on disinfectants for home use:
Surfactants: I.e.: “Soap and water”
Simple soap and hot water and scrubbing is highly effective at removing and killing bacteria, virus’ and molds from skin, clothing and fabrics, and hard surfaces.
Good ol’ soap and water should be considered your “first line of defense” even if you plan to use a more potent disinfectant. For example, some disinfectants (like bleach) are rendered less potent by the presence of protein material – so washing it away with soap and hot water will allow the disinfectant to do it’s job better. This is in fact the protocol suggested by both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) when dealing with blood and body fluid cleanup.
Fresh air and sunshine:
Yes, good old fresh air and sunshine – grandma was right. It’s the ultraviolet radiation in sunshine that does the trick – many microorganisms are killed off by UV radiation. You may have seen a news article recently about a “germ killing robot” – this is actually a machine that is shut into a room and floods the room with a specific frequency of UV light – and yes, it is very effective and very expensive. Sunshine does it for free.
Acetic acid: AKA Vinegar
Acetic acid (vinegar) is an effective mycobactericidal disinfectant that is also active against most other bacteria.
In the US it’s commonly available in 5% acetic acid concentrations in grocery stores. Stronger “pickling vinegar” of 10% may be available and is more useful. Even stronger 15% or 20% may be encountered but is not necessary and can be corrosive and dangerous.
It is effective against: Mycobacterium tuberculosis and non-M. tuberculosis mycobacteria. Acetic acid (vinegar) efficiently kills M. tuberculosis after 30 min of exposure to a 6% acetic acid solution. M. bolletii and M. massiliense nontuberculous mycobacteria are more resistant, although a 30-min exposure to 10% acetic acid resulted in at least a 6-log10 reduction of viable bacteria. (That’s researcher-speak for “significantly active”")
The researchers had this to say about acetic acid:
“The high-level capacity of acetic acid in killing mycobacteria, regarded as the most disinfectant-resistant bacteria due to the structure of their lipid-rich cell walls, suggests that perhaps it should be revived as a broadly effective bactericide that can be used as a general sanitizer.”
Acetic acid is also effective against e-coli, mold and H1N1 virus.
Sodium Hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide – AKA “bleach” – (i.e.: Chlorox)
Bleach is tried and true, inexpensive, and is easily available virtually everywhere. Organizations from the WHO to the CDC all strongly recommend bleach solutions as standard for disinfectants. We concur!
Bleach is effective against: H1N1 virus (influenza) and other viruses including Ebola, mold, all bacteria including staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. coli and salmonella.
So, what’s not to love about bleach?
Well, it’s toxic – that’s what makes it work so well. But it is quite toxic and dangerous to humans and pets. Bleach can burn skin and mucous membranes very badly, and it is not easy to neutralize when splashed on skin – flooding with water helps, but is still slow to wash away and burns will occur.
It can be very dangerous if it becomes mixed with other cleaning solutions or chemicals such as ammonia or acetic acid. When this happens large volumes of very toxic fumes can be released. (The fumes from bleach are always toxic anyway!)
Bleach is a great disinfectant, but it must be used, stored, and handled with caution. It is also not good for those who rely on septic systems as it can damage the beneficial bacteria in those systems.
The WHO provides information about the use of bleach for disinfection, including instructions for mixing correct solution strengths, here:
Hydrogen Peroxide – H2O2
Hydrogen peroxide is commonly and cheaply available as 3% and is useful in that concentration. 5% concentrations may occasionally be found, but should be used with care.
Stronger concentrations are available, but must be diluted before use. Concentrations stronger than 3% can cause “burns” which are a blanching of the skin due to damage to the capillaries (blood vessels) and can also be quite dangerous to mucous membranes and the eyes so full protective gear – gloves, protective sleeves and apron, and face shield or at least goggles should be worn when mixing solutions.
Hydrogen peroxide is very useful in the kitchen – it leaves no residue or odor,and is safe to use on food. Numerous experts have promoted a 2-part system of cleaning vegetables before use: a thorough spraying with vinegar, followed by a clear water rinse, and another thorough spraying with hydrogen peroxide which is not rinsed off but allowed to remain. Try using it in a commonly available spray bottle and be aware that it loses it’s potency with exposure to light – which is why it is sold in opaque (dark) bottles.
Hydrogen peroxide is active against a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores.
This is a fairly effective disinfectant found in several “Lysol” and “Dettol” brand products. It has also long been used in medical settings as a disinfectant soak for such things as oral thermometers and instruments.
Benzalkonium chloride solutions are effective against gram positive (such as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumonia – “staph” and “strep”) and some gram negative bacteria (e-coli, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas) and some viruses, fungi, and protozoa.
It is effective, but also toxic – benzalkonium chloride is considered to be highly toxic to fish, very highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates, moderately toxic to birds, and slightly toxic to mammals. Keep it away from your aquarium and pet birds!
Silver – “colloidal silver”
Colloidal silver is highly effective, and persistent if allowed to remain on surfaces. We have written often in praise of the benefits of colloidal silver. It is usually not recommended for generalized cleaning as there are more economical choices – though there are researchers who have verified it’s effectiveness as a general surface disinfectant.
When it comes to personal use silver has no equal. A one-two punch, soap and hot water washing followed by the use of silver gel hand sanitizer will do a far better job than the WHO recommended alcohol-based hand sanitizers because the sanitizing effect of silver is persistent while alcohol evaporates and it’s disinfecting effects evaporate with it.
Read more about silver here: Is There A “Silver Bullet” For Disease?
Alcohol: Disinfects by denaturing proteins. It may be effective, but it must be in contact with pathogens for longer periods of time (i.e.: up to 20 minutes or more) to be really any more effective than soap and hot water and scrubbing. Isopropyl alcohol is thought to be more effective than ethanol.
The WHO provides a do-it-yourself recipe for making hand sanitizer with alcohol and hydrogen peroxide – since these things are generally available even in third-world locations.
Commercially available “hand sanitizers”are usually alcohol-based, though many contain some additional nasty chemicals like the pesticide triclosan and perfumes. Learn more about “hand sanitizers” and your alternatives here: Poisoned With Good Intentions ?
Alcohol is also highly flammable and yes, that includes alcohol-based hand sanitizers!
What about other “disinfectants” such as baking soda, tea tree oil, borax, ammonia, and so on? They are not recommended by the CDC as they tend to not be broadly effective – though each might be effective against certain select bacteria.
Our top choices?
- Soap and hot water and vigorous scrubbing is number 1 in all circumstances.
- Bleach is very widely effective when used carefully and allowed to dry on surfaces.
- Acetic acid – vinegar – is nearly as effective as bleach, and less nasty to use.
- Hydrogen peroxide is perfect for use on and around food.
- Silver is our top choice for hand cleansing and shows promise as an additive to surface cleaning solutions since it offers persistence.
Rutala WA, Barbee SL, Aguiar NC, Sobsey MD, Weber DJ. Antimicrobial activity of home disinfectants and natural products against potential human pathogens. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2000 Jan;21(1):33-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10656352
Centers For Disease Control (CDC) Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008 http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/Disinfection_Sterilization/toc.html
CiJane S. Greatorex, Rosanna F. Page, Martin D. Curran, Paul Digard, Joanne E. Enstone, Tim Wreghitt, Penny P. Powell, Darren W. Sexton, Robtation Cortesia C, Vilchèze C, Bernut A, Contreras W, Gómez K, de Waard J, Jacobs WR, Jr, Kremer L, Takiff H. 2014. Acetic acid, the active component of vinegar, is an effective tuberculocidal disinfectant. mBio 5(2):e00013-14. doi:10.1128/mBio.00013-14. http://mbio.asm.org/content/5/2/e00013-14.full
Effectiveness of Common Household Cleaning Agents in Reducing the Viability of Human Influenza A/H1N1 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0008987
World Health Organization: Interim Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Care of Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Filovirus Haemorrhagic Fever in Health-Care Settings, with Focus on Ebola. September 2014 http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/130596/1/WHO_HIS_SDS_2014.4_eng.pdf?ua=1&ua=1&ua=1
CDC Guidelines for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008 http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/disinfection_sterilization/7_0formaldehyde.html
Brady MJ1, Lisay CM, Yurkovetskiy AV, Sawan SP. Persistent silver disinfectant for the environmental control of pathogenic bacteria. Am J Infect Control. 2003 Jun;31(4):208-14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12806357
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