Disinfectants are widely misused and overused, but most common products can cause asthma. Cleaning with just plain soap, all purpose cleaners, and/or microfiber cloth can reduce 99% or more of bacteria from surfaces. Otherwise, try disinfectants below which have lactic acid, caprylic acid, citric acid, or hydrogen peroxide as active ingredients. Thymol is also a good choice for consumer use.
Info on this product category: Disinfectants
Why Go Green
- Can be just as effective at killing germs - see the US EPA label for details
- Have safer ingredients. Most common disinfectants contain chemicals that cause asthma.
- Reduce waste, by emphasizing recycled and/or recyclable packaging.
- Are sold as concentrates whenever possible, which means that shipping weight is 1/64 – 1/256 that of ready to use products - dramatically reducing fuel requirements for shipping.
- Use dilution systems to prevent exposure to concentrated products.
- Use disinfectants sparingly.
- Disinfectants are good for surfaces that are touched frequently, like doorknobs and keyboards.
- A surface is not disinfected if the disinfectant is wiped away too soon. Disinfectants must sit/dwell on a surface for the number of minutes listed on the bottle.
- Confused about ingredients? If the ingredient has the words "ammonium chloride" somewhere in a long chemical name, it is probably a quaternary ammonium compound, or "quat." These are to be avoided.
- Looking for products certified by an ecolabel organization (such as Green Seal)? You probably won't find any. Federal regulations prohibit ecolabels on pesticides, and disinfectants are considered pesticides.
Criteria for Disinfectants
Products must be EPA registered as disinfectants or hard surface sanitizers, and contain only the following active ingredients: Hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, lactic acid, or caprylic acid. Products must not contain quaternary ammonium compounds or alkylphenol ethoxylates. Concentrated products must be adapted for use in a closed-loop dilution system.
In 2014, SF Environment and the Green Purchasing Institute completed an alternatives analysis to identify the safest disinfectants. The report examined:
- Worker health hazards
- Environmental impacts
- Effectiveness for various disease organisms
- Length of time needed to kill germs
- Compatibility with surfaces
Conclusion: Use hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid, citric acid, or caprylic acid-based disinfectants when feasible. They show the highest potential for reducing risks to workers and the environment. Some worked very well in pilot tests at the San Francisco Unified School District. For concentrated products, a closed loop dilution system is preferred. Thymol is also an option for consumer use.
Guide for City Staff
- Are required to buy these cleaners (if needed):
Post the City department green cleaning checklist/poster.
- Disinfectants are only important for surfaces like doorknobs.
- Switch to microfiber mops and cloths, which can prevent injuries because there's no need for heavy mop buckets.
Install closed-loop dilution systems (if possible) to prevent employee exposure to hazardous concentrates.
Non-custodial City Staff:
- Try microfiber cloths, which can get rid of 99% of bacteria with plain water.
- Get discounted consumer general purpose cleaners, disinfectants, dish soaps, hand sanitizers.
- Make cleaners (air fresheners, oven cleaners, mold and mildew remover, wood furniture polish) with things like baking soda, castille soap, or lemon juice.
- See other safer consumer products at GoodGuide.
It's illegal to trash cleaners (and other chemicals, electronics, lighting, metal, paints). So do one of the following:
Guide for Small Businesses & Homes
- Businesses should consider switching to industrial disinfectants, especially concentrates. Ready-to-use products are 15 times more expensive than concentrates.
- Otherwise, safer consumer disinfectants are available. Look for hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid, caprylic acid or citric acid active ingredients. Thymol products are also good options but avoid long term use without rubber gloves.
- SF Environment (with US EPA support) has developed a series of custodial green cleaning training videos aimed at custodial companies seeking SF Green Business certification. These videos are free and available to all.
Guide for Large Organizations
- Post the Custodial Green Cleaning Checklist/Poster and Tips (available in Spanish and Chinese).
- Watch custodial green cleaning training videos made by SF Environment.
- When creating contracts, paste specifications from the Criteria section above.
- Try microfiber mops and cloths, which can get rid of 99% of bacteria with plain water.
- Install closed-loop dilution systems to prevent employee exposure to hazardous concentrates.
- Legally and safely dispose of cleaners (and other chemicals, electronics, lighting, metal, paints) in the San Francisco Bay Area or rest of the U.S.