As you browse the cleaning aisle at your local home center, you will find a dizzying array of disinfectant products. Familiar names like Lysol, Clorox, and 409 are everywhere. Which one of these should you use? None of them.
To answer this important question, let’s first define what to look for in an ideal disinfectant. “Disinfecting” means you are actually killing and eliminating bacteria and viruses, as compared to “sanitizing” which is a mere reduction in the quantity of germs. First, choose a disinfectant which kills a broad spectrum of bacteria and viruses that we know exist in close community settings. Examples of these are Staphylococcus Aureus, Influenza, Rhinovirus, Norovirus and MRSA. Secondly, check that the disinfectant is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is non-toxic and safe for use around people and on building materials. Third, the formulation should be classified as a disinfectant/cleaner since some disinfectants are deactivated by normal soils and require a costly pre-cleaning step. Lastly, the disinfectant should have a reasonably short “dwell” time, ideally five minutes or less. Dwell time is the length of time that the disinfectant must remain wet on a surface, in order to kill germs. Germs are not killed on contact, and tough ones like MRSA may take 4 - 5 minutes before they are eliminated.
With this in mind, three main types of disinfectants are typically used in commercial environments: (1) Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, or “Quats”, (2) Sodium Hypochlorite, or bleach, and (3) Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide.
Quats, such as Lysol, are effective against some germs however it leaves residue on surfaces, has a powerful, off-putting scent and is not useful against tough germs such as gram negative bacteria and non-enveloped viruses. They also require a lengthy 10 minutes dwell time. Bleach can cause severe respiratory ailments and is often corrosive to common building materials, including metals. Bleached surfaces also must be rinsed with water if there is any chance of ingestion, such as with toys or desks. In our experience, the best option is Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP), as marketed under trade names such as Oxivir, Alpha or Envirox 117. AHP is highly effective as a broad spectrum disinfectant, and is non-toxic since it breaks down to only oxygen and water. It has a 5 minute dwell time so reapplication is not required, and its safe nature means it does not need to be rinsed afterwards. There is a big push in hospitals across the United States to switch to AHP because of the numerous benefits. Make the switch today in your own facility!