Are Natural Disinfectants Effective? How to Know If a Cleaner Really Kills Germs

Are Natural Disinfectants Effective? How to Know If a Cleaner Really Kills Germs

Are Natural Disinfectants Effective? While we all want our household surfaces to shine and shine, it’s not just their general appearance that matters: all frequently touched surfaces must also be disinfected regularly. Sure, some of the items in your pantry or fridge (think: vinegar and lemon juice) can effectively clean your counters, sinks, and other busy places, but they’re not packed with enough proper ingredients to disinfect properly your space. That doesn’t mean you have to turn to traditional all-purpose cleaners to get the job done.

Are Natural Disinfectants Effective?
Are Natural Disinfectants Effective?

Herbal disinfectants

When used properly, herbal disinfectants can be just as effective as chemical cleaners. But not all natural cleansers are created the same: to make sure you buy the right cleansers, look for those approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with ingredients like thymol, including wipes and seventh-generation disinfectant cleaners. Whether it’s a spray or a wipe, these natural disinfectants kill bacteria and viruses on hard surfaces, but they work slower than chemical disinfectants. To disinfect properly, clean the surface with soap and water before using the disinfectant of your choice and let sit, according to the product instructions, to kill 99.999% of germs.


All cleaners that claim to kill germs must be registered with the EPA. This is what the Good Housekeeping Cleaning Lab uses as a guide when we test disinfectants and disinfectants, and it implies that if you follow the instructions, the product will work as claimed.

That being said, here are some tips on how to disinfect, whether you choose natural or chemical products:

  • Disinfection is not the same as disinfection. Disinfection (reduces the risk of disease by killing 99.9% of germs) usually takes less time – sometimes only 30 or 60 seconds – while disinfection (killing 99.999% of germs) can take up to 10 minutes, depending on the product.
  • Check the label for how long hard, non-porous surfaces should stay wet for the most effective germ destruction. Because liquids evaporate, you may need to apply the product more than once.
  • No product can properly disinfect or disinfect a dirty surface, so be sure to clean – even with plain soap and water – before disinfecting.
  • Soap and water regularly clean the germs, but disinfectants and disinfectants are needed to kill the germs.
  • Soft surfaces are porous and will never reach the level of germ destruction required to be completely disinfected.
  • Never combine disinfectants or cleaning products (bleach and vinegar, for example) and open the window or ventilate a room if the fumes become annoying.
  • Test surfaces in a hidden location before using alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or any other disinfectant on a particularly delicate surface. On surfaces in contact with food, rinse with clean water and dry after disinfection, unless the product label specifically says otherwise.

Are vinegar or lemon juice effective disinfectants?

In short, no. While the citric acid in lemons or the acetic acid in vinegar kills certain bacteria and are active ingredients registered by the EPA, the concentration and PH levels are not powerful enough to disinfect in the same way that other EPA registered cleaners. But if you’re just looking to spruce up your countertop, fridge or another hard-hit surface, they’ll at least make it cleaner than before.

Is rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide a smart option?

It is debatable whether rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are considered natural cleaners, but one thing is certain: they are both solid alternatives to chemical disinfectants. Higher percentages of alcohol evaporate too quickly to be effective, so it’s best to stick to a rubbing alcohol containing 70% isopropyl alcohol or one 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. Let the rubbing alcohol sit for at least 30 seconds and the hydrogen peroxide for at least one minute before wiping it down.

What about steam cleaners?

Yes, steam is an effective way to kill bacteria and other germs without chemicals. However, don’t reach your trusty steamer: household steam cleaners, like the Bissell SteamShot Deluxe, reach temperatures high enough to kill germs during heavy household chores. The catch: Steam must have direct contact with the surface for a long period of time to be effective. Follow the procedure in the owner’s manual for your steamer for best results.

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