When cleaning your house, it’s tempting to think about creating a perfectly sterilized, germ-free environment. The reality is that germs are everywhere, and eliminating them is not only impossible, it’s not even healthy. Many microbes are either harmless or actively beneficial for our health.
Instead, your home cleaning routine should focus on maintaining a healthy environment that reduces the risk of spreading disease. As it turns out, sterilizing and disinfecting are rarely necessary.
What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?
Cleaning and disinfecting are both methods of reducing the amount of germs on surfaces at home, work, school, and other places. Each has a different effect on germs and requires different solutions and techniques. You can think of them as varying levels of intensity. For example, regular cleaning is enough to remove “most harmful viruses or bacteria from surfaces,” according to the CDC. Disinfection is an additional step that is only needed when someone is either sick or at increased risk of getting sick due to a weakened immune system.
That means you don’t need disinfectants with harsh chemicals in your regular cleaning routine, just a handful of safe, effective cleaning products.
But what are germs?
Germs are microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites that are found in the air, soil, water, on our skin, and in our bodies. While not all germs are harmful, some germs are capable of spreading infectious diseases.
Dirt contains germs, so regularly cleaning dirty areas in your home can help prevent the risk of infection.
What is cleaning?
Cleaning refers to methods of removing most germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. This typically involves using soap, water, and other home cleaning products to spray, wipe, scrub, or wash surfaces in your home. Cleaning does not actively kill germs, but by removing them it reduces their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
Examples of cleaning:
- Washing hands with soap and water
- Cleaning hard surfaces (such as countertops, tables, light switches, and door handles) with soap and water
- Sweeping and mopping hard surface flooring like wood, stone, tile, or laminate
- Vacuuming soft surfaces such as carpets and rugs to remove dirt
- Washing dishes, utensils, and cookware with dish soap or detergent
- Washing clothes, towels, and bedding with laundry detergent or soap
Types of home cleaners:
- Hand soap
- All-purpose cleaning spray
- Multi-surface cleaning powder
- Dish soap
- Laundry detergent
- Oxygen cleaner
When should I use a cleaner?
Use cleaners for everyday cleaning tasks, like wiping kitchen counters, mopping floors, washing dishes, and doing laundry. Cleaning alone removes most dirt and germs. Unless someone is sick or at increased risk of getting sick, you don’t need to do anything more than cleaning. If you do need to disinfect your home, you should always clean the affected surfaces and objects before using disinfectants. Dirt can prevent disinfectants from reaching germs, so it should always be removed first.
In addition to reducing the risk of infection, regular cleaning can keep your home feeling fresh and inviting!
What is disinfection?
Disinfection refers to methods of killing germs on surfaces and objects. This involves stronger chemicals and cleaners known as disinfectants. Common household disinfectants include bleach, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide.
Examples of disinfection:
- Disinfecting hard surfaces and objects that are touched often (such as countertops, light switches, door knobs, and faucet handles)
- Wiping down surfaces used to prepare food with a disinfectant solution
- Washing clothes, towels, and bedding used by a sick person with hot water and laundry detergent or soap
When should I use a disinfectant?
Use disinfectants after cleaning when someone who lives in or visited your home is sick or at increased risk of infection. Cleaning surfaces and objects helps to remove most germs, as well as dirt, oils, dust, and other grime that can prevent disinfectants from reaching them. Disinfectants should be used to kill the viruses and bacteria that may remain after cleaning with soap and water to further reduce the risk of infection.
Avoid using disinfectants unless someone is sick. While these products are effective at killing germs, they contain powerful chemicals that can be harmful to people and the environment when overused. As Women’s Voices for the Earth points out, many disinfectants contain quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, which are pesticides. Quats are known to irritate the skin and lungs and have been linked to reproductive issues. Moreover, Women’s Voices argues that disinfectants containing quats have never been proven to be more effective at preventing infection than cleaning with soap and water.
When using disinfectants, be sure to follow these safety guidelines recommended by the CDC:
- Always read and follow the directions on the label of the disinfectant
- Wear protective gloves, goggles, and other recommended equipment to protect your skin, eyes, and other sensitive areas
- Leave the disinfectant on the surface as long as instructed to effectively kill germs
- Use a fan or open windows when using disinfectants indoors to ensure proper ventilation
- Dilute the product if instructed to do so by the label
- Don’t ingest disinfectants or use them on your skin, on others, or on pets
- Wash your hands with soap and water after disinfecting
- Properly store disinfectants out of reach of children and pets
What should I look for in disinfectants?
The EPA registers disinfectants that pass rigorous testing for their effectiveness against common pathogens, or germs. You can find the EPA registration number, as well as active ingredients, directions for use, caution information, and more on the product label.
You can also use a bleach solution to disinfect surfaces at home. If using bleach, be sure to consult the CDC safety guidelines and the product label before getting started. You will have to properly dilute the bleach with room temperature water to use it safely.
Prioritize cleaning over disinfecting
As we’ve covered, the CDC only recommends disinfection to reduce the spread of disease when someone is either sick or at increased risk of sickness. Disinfectants typically contain harsh chemicals such as quats and chlorine bleach that are harmful to people and the environment. They also require additional safety precautions.
Thankfully, everyday cleaning with soap and water or non-disinfectant cleaning products is sufficient to remove most germs and prevent you and your family from getting sick.
At Meliora Cleaning Products, we make cleaners, not disinfectants. They are made with safe, effective ingredients including baking soda, washing soda, and sodium percarbonate, along with various forms of soap made from organic coconut and sunflower oils. Our products do a great job removing most germs and the dirt, dust, and oils that contain them from your home and your clothes.Our products are not meant to kill viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other microbes. If you need to disinfect your home, clean first with general home cleaners like our products, then find an EPA-registered disinfectant that suits your needs and use it carefully and sparingly.