Ditch the bleach and toxic fumes, and learn how to make this natural disinfectant with a simple ingredient you probably already have at home!
Germs are no joke.
Raw chicken on the cutting board?
That downstairs bathroom that’s shared by six kids?
Your toddler’s toy that’s been mouthed and sneezed on more times than you can count during his week-long bout with that nasty virus that’s finally made it’s way out of your home?
For better or for worse, germs are everywhere. And while some germs are actually good for us and help build up our immune system, others can really do a number on us.
One of the biggest misconceptions about non-toxic cleaners is that “they don’t kill germs” as well as the commercial cleaners.
So you’ve probably resorted to the old standby in times of germ-killing need: bleach.
That stuff is powerful, isn’t it? It kills germs, it whitens fabrics, and you can use it to clean pretty much any surface in your home.
But the reality? Bleach can be a little too powerful for everyday jobs. And it comes with a long list of side effects and health hazards.
We can do better…
What can you use as a natural disinfectant for surfaces that really need it, without having to deal with the harmful side effects of bleach?
Two words: hydrogen peroxide.
That’s right – that dark brown bottle with the weird fizzy solution inside is actually a natural disinfectant! In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists hydrogen peroxide as a stable and effective disinfectant and recommends its use in hospital settings. (source)
And the best part? Compared to most other chemical disinfectants, peroxide is safe, non-toxic, and breaks down into just water and oxygen.
But its effectiveness really depends on proper use and storage.
How to Use Peroxide as a Natural Disinfectant
General Spray After Cleaning
By far the most common use for that trusty peroxide spray bottle is as a finishing spray after you’ve cleaned surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom.
After using this all-purpose cleaner and some baking soda to clean and scrub counters, sinks, toilets, etc. – give those surfaces a quick spray of peroxide and just leave it to dry.
Cutting Boards and Raw Meat
For this one, you’ll combine the disinfecting powers of both peroxide and vinegar. On their own, they’re not very effective at killing germs from raw meat, but when used together – one after the other – they have been found to reduce food-borne germs like E.coli, salmonella, and listeria to safe levels. (source)
Directions are really simple for this one: spray one (either peroxide or vinegar), immediately followed by the other, and let them sit on the surface for 5-30 minutes before rinsing off.
It doesn’t matter which one is sprayed first, just make sure they are sprayed separately, and that you do NOT combine the two solutions into one bottle, which can create an unstable product.
Another technique I found says to spray one, wait 5 minutes, wipe it off, then repeat with the other. The author claims she got this technique directly from one of the researchers from the food-borne germs study I cited above. (source)
NOTE: Whichever technique you choose, this method will only reduce germs to a safe level, but it will not completely disinfect the area. Personally, I’m ok with this, but use your own judgement.
Whether you buy a lot of second hand toys, or you run a daycare out of your home, you’re going to need to properly disinfect those shared toys at some point – especially during cold/flu season.
Either spray them with undiluted peroxide, wipe them down with a peroxide-dampened cloth, or give them a good soak in a sink filled with water and some peroxide for at least 30 minutes. Use your judgement to decide how much to dilute here.
Post-Cold or Flu
After a nasty cold or flu has passed through your home, grab your bottle of peroxide and spray down the common surfaces where germs like to lurk: light switches, door knobs, fridge handle, faucets, etc. Just spray it on, and leave it to dry.
It’s a good idea to soak your toothbrushes in a peroxide solution for about 30 minutes as well.
Several peroxide-based disinfectants are registered with the EPA as being effective against norovirus and MSRA. Of course at concentrations that are higher than your drug store bottle, but it’s still very encouraging! (source 1 and 2)
Sponges and Brushes
Every week or so I pour some peroxide into a small jar and soak my sponges and brushes in it to clean and disinfect them. Let them soak for a good 20-30 minutes, making sure the items are completely covered with peroxide. Then, rinse them with water, and they’re ready for the next use.
This works great for kitchen sponges and brushes, bath loofahs, and even pumice stones, nail clippers, and other bath and shower tools.
Children & Pet Accidents
I’m sure you’ve dealt with your fair share of messes and accidents from your kids and pets. Vomiting, urine, and feces are no fun to deal with, but after cleaning the area thoroughly, go ahead and spray some peroxide and let it sit on the surface for 30-60 minutes, or until dry.
But first, a few notes…
Before you go around dousing your whole house in peroxide, there are a few things you need to know:
How to Store Peroxide
Peroxide must be stored in a dark, opaque bottle because it breaks down and loses it’s effectiveness when exposed to light. Just keep it in the dark bottle it came in. You can also try screwing a spray bottle top directly onto your peroxide bottle, or buying one with the spray top already attached, like this one.
If you do need to transfer it to another bottle, then wrap that bottle with a brown paper bag, and secure it with a rubber band to protect it from light.
Start With a Clean Surface
You want to make sure to actually clean the surface first, and then spray the peroxide to disinfect it. That’s because peroxide is only effective at killing bacteria on inanimate objects. Which means you have to remove the organic materials (like dirt, or food, or raw chicken bits) off your surface first, in order to have maximum effectiveness. (source)
So simply brushing off, wiping up, or rinsing off your surface is a crucial first step. Washing the surface with soap and water is also a good idea, especially if the surface is greasy or grimy. If you do rinse your surface with water, you’ll want to dry it before spraying the peroxide to get maximum disinfecting power, but it’s not always necessary.
In order for any disinfectant to work effectively, it has to be left on the surface for the right amount of time to be able to work and actually kill the germs on that surface. That amount can vary depending on the surface, the germs, and the disinfectant, so the safest bet (i.e. my lazy shortcut) is to just spray it on and leave it.
If you’re soaking items (i.e. kids’ toys) in a peroxide solution, they should be soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes. (source)
A Little Warning
Peroxide does have the ability to lighten fabrics and surfaces, though it’s nowhere near as strong as bleach. Still, you should use caution if spraying it on or around fabrics, upholstery, or anywhere that could accidentally be “bleached” in the process. If you’re worried about a specific surface, just do a spot test first.
Germs are a part of life, and for the most part they’re pretty harmless and help build up our immune systems. We don’t need to completely eradicate them from our homes, but we also don’t want them taking over our living spaces.
When you do need to disinfect your home, remember that cleaning the area is always your first line of defense. Then, you can properly disinfect the area and finish the job.
Put away that bottle of bleach – and all the harmful side effects that come with it – and reach for that bottle of hydrogen peroxide as a natural disinfectant instead.