Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

An Update on How to Kill Germs Naturally

November 24th, 2009 · 45 Comments · Cleaning

peroxideI thought I was going to have to rescind/delete one of my favorite posts, one that readers reference time and time again.  Talk about a reason for a tissue and a pity party!

My three favorite natural green cleaners include baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar.  I received an email recently asking me to rescind my information about the hydrogen peroxide/vinegar duo for sanitizing countertops.  (“What??” I thought!  I’ve been counting on that for years!)

Here is an excerpt from the well-meaning email:

In a former job, I sold industrial chemicals and as a part of that job, taught sanitation and disinfection seminars to professional cleaning staffs.

I must caution you that your suggestion about using vinegar and hydragen peroxide will not kill germs. Germ killing is strictly regulated by the EPA. If you say that a solution will kill germs it has to be tested and certified by the EPA. Aside from chlorine bleach there is a hospital grade disinfectant that is highly concentrated to be mixed at 400 ppm (parts per million) of ammonium quartenary. You can also buy this premixed at janitorial supply houses. It is not toxic in its dilute forms. There is also an iodine phenolic solution that will work but is mainly used in surgery and not in home cleaning. There are even test strips to determine the level of ammonium quarternary to make sure that it is at 400 ppm. Anything else is just “feel good” remedies which are quite often dangerous, but at the very least they don’t disinfect which is dangerous if you think it has been disinfected.

I have a science major including chemistry and micro biology. You should discourage and not print home made recipes for cleaning products because it will cause totally unqualified people to experiment with chemicals which is highly dangerous.

My quick response to him:

What about tea tree oil as a disinfectant, and rubbing alcohol?  Is it just an old wives’ tale when people sterilize their needle for getting out a splinter with rubbing alcohol?  There have to be more than 4 things in the world that will kill bacteria.  What is hydrogen peroxide good for, then?

He replied:

As to sterilizing a needle, the correct answer is with direct heat with a match or over the stove. It is true that alcohol will kill some germs but is not a broad spectrum disinfectant. Peroxide oxygenates the wound but if you go to a hospital or urgent care with a cut that needs to be stitched, they will use the iodine phenolic that I previously mentioned. It is for human contact, the ammonium quartenary that I mentioned is for use on hard surfaces only.

Well harumph, thought I.  The more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if this fella’s information could possibly be correct.  What about the claims plastered all over waterless hand sanitizers? Time to waste spend some quality time doing a Swagbucks search.  Here is what I found:

Sources that say an alcohol-based sanitizer will kill germs:

Sources that say hydrogen peroxide is a sanitizer:

  • Associated Content
  • Wikipedia
  • Environmental Protection Agency:
    “Hydrogen peroxide, well known as an ingredient in disinfectant products, is now also approved for controlling microbial pests on crops growing indoors and outdoors, and on certain crops after harvest. This active ingredient prevents and controls bacteria and fungi that cause serious plant diseases. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down rapidly in the environment to oxygen and water, and is not expected to cause adverse effects to humans or the environment when users follow label directions.” EPA
  • EPA first registered hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid as antimicrobial pesticides in 1977 and 1985, respectively. Both chemicals are approved only for indoor use on hard, non-porous surfaces. Use sites include:
    • agricultural premises;
    • food establishments;
    • medical facilities;
    • home bathrooms;
    • dairy/cheese processing plants;
    • on food processing equipment; and
    • pasteurizers in breweries, wineries, and beverage plants.”
      EPA

So.  I’m pretty satisfied with that, and even if my emailer’s information is true that it’s not a “broad spectrum” germ killer, I’ll just have to live with some germs. I’ll teach them manners, I suppose, before I go back to bleach in my home.

New Lessons on Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Must keep it in an opaque bottle!  I finally tried my small spray bottle sprayer directly on the brown peroxide bottle, and it worked just great.  Go spend the buck at Target and get one for yourself!
  • Don’t use peroxide on cuts as a first line of defense – it oxidizes the cells and makes healing more difficult (this is from a nurse at my child’s pediatrician’s office).  “Whoops” from me!  I was absolutely relying on H2O2 as a “safe” and painless cut cleaner.  Just soap and water, they say.  Alrighty then…

In other news, I’m going to have to try hydrogen peroxide on my windowsills, which have mildew and/or mold growing on them because my house fogs up every time I cook!  Blech.  We got a quote on new windows or putting our house up for sale.  (Lord, which one do You want us to do?)

For now, I’m off to add a disclaimer to my cleaners post so no one sues me for telling them to “mix chemicals”!!! *raspberries* to red tape…

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In a former job, I sold industrial chemicals and as a part of that job, taught sanitation and disinfection seminars to professional cleaning staffs.
I must caution you that your suggestion about using vinegar and hydragen peroxide will not kill germs.  Germ killing is strictly regulated by the EPA.  If you say that a solution will kill germs it has to be tested and certified by the EPA.  Aside from chlorine bleach there is a hospitral grade disinfectant that is highly concentrated to be mixed at 400 ppm (parts per million) of ammonium quartenary.  You can also buy this premixed at janitorial supply houses.  It is not toxic in its dilute forms.  There is also an iodine phenolic solution that will work but is mainly used in surgery and not in home cleaning.  There are even test strips to determine the level of ammonium quarternary to make sure that it is at 400 ppm.  Anything else is just “feel good” remedies which are quite often dangerous, but at the very least they don’t disinfect which is dangerous if you think it has been disinfected.

I have a science major including chemistry and micro biology.  You should discourage and not print home made recipes for cleaning products because it will cause totally unqualified people to experiment with chemicals which is highly dangerous.


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45 Comments so far ↓

  • carolyn

    I think this dude was just a little bored, I wouldn’t take his criticism too seriously. He needs to find a real hobby!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • kanmuri

    Funny how an organization can prevent you from saying what you want. Isn’t America about freedom of speech?
    The only reason I see for a person to discourage people from using their homemade products is to sell more industrial chemicals.
    .-= kanmuri´s last blog ..Japanese Men Should be Afraid =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • MarshaJ

    I’m glad you didn’t rescind your information, especially since you provided links to back up your opinions. It’s not like you sat down one day and said, “Hmmm, I think hydrogen peroxide just might do the trick at disinfecting, so I’ll blog about it!” You researched it and tried it out. So it might not kill every bacteria out there. Oh well. It’s still better than exposing your family to dangerous chemicals found in other cleaning products.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kathryn

    Good for you for checking this out rather than rolling over.

    I know some of the bigger sites (like Mercola) have “moles” who come from who knows where, but probably from big corporations, who try to create dissent & question what is being said there. Likely someone has a search out & when they found the words “germ killing” on your site they thought they’d see if you’d roll over.

    The best dressing for a cut is Manuka honey. Do a Google check. It is now being used in hospital in NZ, Australia, & the UK. It actually kills MRSA. (Regular honey has some of these properties too, if it is natural honey & not what is being sold at a grocery store, but Manuka is much more effective.) Going to an ER & following the protocol the author of your letter outlines ends up in infection much of the time these days.

    There are many good, natural ways to clean that are frugal too, but the corporations don’t want that info shared as it cuts into their bottom line. Why bother buying the “Green” line of products at high cost when you can make them at home? But if people think of it as difficult then they are more willing to trust the “experts” in these matters.

    I just found this on killing mold/mildew naturally: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/three-ways-to-kill-mold-naturally.html

    And i totally agree with you on the “co-exist” with germs. Too many folks are too concerned with killing them all. Of course, safety is required in some areas like handling poultry, but in general it is much better to build up our own immune systems rather than worry about germs.

    Thanks for your good, investigative writing. Keep up the good job. :)
    .-= Kathryn´s last blog ..Please . . . =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Kathryn,
    Honey. I am absolutely fascinated. And we keep trying to make more chemicals to treat our chemicals.

    Thank you for the info – I hope to do more on raw honey someday, and Manuka is now on my list to research! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kathy Day Reply:

    There is some evidence on the web to suggest that Jarrah Honey, from Western Australia, is even more potent than NZ Manuka Honey. Jarrah is a species of eucalypt which grows only in the South West corner of Western Australia.
    http://www.jarrahhoneyinfo.com/
    Not easy to get though, as we have had several years of very low rainfall in Western Australia and the supply of good quality Jarrah honey is low.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • K @ Prudent and Practical

    If we were getting sick from the homemade cleaners not doing their job, do you think we’d be writing about how wonderful they are? I’ve only been doing homemade’s for one year and haven’t had ANY problems yet. I think God’s put resources here for us – nourishing foods, natural cleaners, etc – He gives us what we need.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    K,
    Awesome to hear a positive testimonial! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jackie at Lilolu

    This is all great information and I still stand by my homemade cleaners.
    .-= Jackie at Lilolu´s last blog ..Heartwarming =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • tina

    Gee Wiz, does this guy really believe we can no longer think for ourselves? I’ve been using naturals cleaners for four years now and nothing bad has happened to our family. I cook every. single. day. Raw meats and raw milk. My kiddies play outside in the dirt, touching bugs and worms and other things. And I always clean with baking soda and vinegar and hot water and dishsoap.

    We’re fine and we will always be fine without cleaning chemicals.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Tina,
    Yes, sister! ;) Well said! Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julie

    We have used homemade cleaners for years now with no problems. Mostly vinegar with GSE and a little tea tree oil. I think if we work to abolish all germs from our homes our immune system becomes weak. But that’s just my opinion not an educated fact. I know that my friends with germ phobia seem to always be sick while my kids have a runny nose ocassionally. Eating well helps too. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Julie,
    Thanks for a another great success story to encourage us all! Now I’ll demonstrate my ignorance/humility: what is GSE? Welcome to KS – Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kathryn Reply:

    Grapefruit seed extract. Wonderful product. You should check that one out, too. (It is food grade, but quite bitter.)
    .-= Kathryn´s last blog ..Mostly just pics =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rachel R.

    Definitely still use the peroxide on a puncture wound, though. It oxygenates the wound, helping prevent anaerobic ickies like tetanus from thriving. (Got this info from Dr. Sherri Tenpenny in her vaccine video.)
    .-= Rachel R.´s last blog ..Things I Don’t Understand About the Dresses-Only Movement =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Rachel,
    Good to know- so punctures different than scrapes is how I understand your advice, ye?
    Thanks!
    Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Monica

    I think the guy is right about how to kill a broad spectrum of germs; however I’m not concerned about “germ” killing anyway. I don’t want my house to be a hospital. I think a sterile evironment is unnatural and not how humans are supposed to live. I don’t buy industrially produced foods. That’s how I keep super bugs out of my kitchen. Other than that, I use the homemade lye soap that my grandma made for her kitchen use. It cleans my kitchen to sparkling and the tallow mosturizes my hands. There most likely are bacteria on my countertops and I don’t care one bit.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Alisse

    I stumbled upon your blog and love it! I just wanted to add something about the whole disinfecting thing…I use essential oils. I have found a company that has their oils certified pure therapeutic grade and has the science to back it up. There are oils out there that kill bacteria when diluted 10,000 times! You may want to consider adding alittle oil to a spray bottle of distilled water. I use it on my counter tops and sinks around the house. I spray my dish rag at night after doing the dishes and don’t have to deal with that gooey/smelly rag anymore. I also use some essential oils instead of decongestants and for migraine relief. It has been a HUGE blessing to me and my family. Any one interested in learning more can go to my blog http://www.thecoil7.blogspot.com where I have a link to the website for the essential oils, or shoot me an email and I will get in touch with you!!!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Alisse,

    It is on my list to learn more about essential oils. I have a friend who uses them for everything and will talk me through it when I get time. I do have a spray bottle of tea tree oil and water now; I’ll have to try the stinky rag trick! I love that there are things in nature that can already do everything the chemists in the labs are cooking up! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama

    Your reader was right in one sense – the EPA does strictly regulate pesticides and the claims that are made. If a manufacturer makes pesticidial claims, then the product must conform to EPA regulations. So, for example, the Q-tips – antimicrobial that contain triclosan, which can be a regulated pesticide depending on how it is use, don’t make any claims to killing bugs on other things, just that the Q-tips will stay fresh. So, the Q-tips in this case aren’t pesticidial products. Similarly, if you look at vinegar or hydrogen peroxide sold in stores, they don’t make any claims that would subject them to regulation as pesticides by the EPA (although the hydrogen peroxide does make claims that subjects it to regulation as a medical product by the FDA). That doesn’t mean that the products don’t kill germs.

    He is also right that there are certain formulations that have been approved for food safety in a commercial kitchen.

    And you may want to be careful how things are worded- sanitize v. disinfect, etc. but he mostly just seems a bit cranky.

    Most of his quotes have to do w
    .-= Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama´s last blog ..What’s wrong with natural deodorants? You may be surprised to find aluminium. =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • shelle

    well i think your site is fabulous…and it’s obvious you have done your reasearch.

    personally i think being exposed to germs is our best line of defense…
    .-= shelle ´s last blog ..A Giveaway! =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Bebe

    How is it that no one has mentioned grapefruit seed extract? GSE “contains Citricidal… a natural quaternary compound… converts the grapefruit bioflavonoids into an extremely potent compound.. proven to be highly effective in numerous applications.”
    Those applications are published elsewhere and include reports that it is MORE effective than chlorine on things such as e-coli, salmonella and even effective as a water purifying agent for organisms such as giardia!
    You can take GSE internally!!
    I use it in my toilet bowl with baking soda and a few drops of essential oil to leave it scrubbed (baking soda), disinfected (GSE) and smelling fresh and clean (essential oil).
    I have used it topically on skin (never full strength, please) for impetigo and fungal infestations. You can use it for a gargle AND drink some when coming down with cold/flu symptoms… plus many, many more applications. It is VERY effective!
    I would be quite interested to hear your feedback on this.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Bebe,
    THAT is an impressive list! Thank you so much for sharing – I have been told about GSE before (and had to ask, “What’s GSE”) but I’ve just never tried it myself. Sounds like something for my shopping list… :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Heather

    Thanks for the neat site! I am enjoying it. Do you know if these mixtures eliminate clostridium difficille? It’s a nasty tummy bug, and it seems that bleach one of only a few things known to kill it, and then the spores. Thanks for your insight!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Heather,
    Welcome aboard! You got me on that one, I can’t say I’ve heard of that not-so-fun sounding mouthful. It seems like grapefruit seed extract essential oil is supposed to be pretty potent, and tea tree oil is another natural solution, but I can’t say I can vouch for either against that bug. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Bebe Reply:

    Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) and grapefruit essential oil are two different substances. I believe that all the citrus essential oils have quite a high disinfectant capacity, probably from the solvent content in the peels, but GSE definitely has trials and studies behind it proving its germ-killing power. It has no smell though and I like to include the wonderful fresh citrus scents in cleaning applications.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Bridget

    Ummm…I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but have you read about the toxic fumes from Tempurpedic mattresses? (sorry)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Bridget,
    Yuck. Deleted that line from the post! Thanks – Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Chris

    You’ll have to excuse me if I’m repeating information from other posts (I skipped to the bottom of the comments rather than reading them all). I agree that the “well meaning email” seemed a little overzealous and gruff, and while I am all for saving money and limiting the amounts of chemicals in the home, I do have a little info to share.
    Hydrogen peroxide combats germs using free radicals (much in the same way that the sun’s UV rays can be harmful to our body) to inactivate and destroy many types of bacteria. One thing to keep in mind is there are many types of bacteria that naturally produce a defensive enzyme (catalase I believe) that reacts with H2O2 and leaves it as nothing more than water.
    If you kill 95% of the Ecoli living on your counters with H2O2, and the rest receives the inactivated H2O2(water) they will divide and double in something like 20 minutes, that left overnight pretty much negates any cleaning you did after dinner.
    In my college immunology lab, we used a 10% bleach solution diluted with water to kill or deactivate everything (Ecoli, Staph, etc.) Plus we washed our hands with warm water for no less than 30 seconds. It’s the basics really.
    I don’t say this to convince anyone to stop using homemade cleaners or to make the case that commercial cleaners are the only way to go, but natural oils and extracts are great for some kinds of bugs. Other germs have adapted natural defenses for natural products. We never have just one type of bacteria on the counter; they don’t all work the same way, they aren’t all vulnerable to the same solutions, and different strains of the same type of germ may or may not be resistant to what you use to clean.
    That being said, I myself use antibacterial soap or alcohol based hand gels in the kitchen only, and really only disinfect after preparing raw meats. Too sterile is unhealthy and lets the immune system get lazy or “forget” how to battle a lot of the stuff out there.
    As a final thought, anyone with small children or toddlers (such as in our family) should definitely weigh the pros/cons of getting surfaces that may be harboring some of the more dangerous bugs “probably clean enough”, while an adult may get an upset stomach, it can wreak havoc on the little ones. Do your own research, don’t use it just b/c mom always did (look at all the cancer and health issues affecting the baby boomers….harmless habits and “it never hurt me”….or maybe it took a few decades to see the extent of the damage.) Stay healthy, stay happy, and God bless.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Chris,
    Thank you, really, for the valuable insight. Sounds like creepy crawlies are all over my counter, for sure. Now I ponder rejuvenating the ol’ bleach and water sprayer… ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Joe Reply:

    A little common sense goes a long way. Oxygen promotes healing. A simple solution to many life threatening germs on kitchen counters; don’t eat meat. Take a walk through any meat processing plant, and you’ll find it much easier to do. For cleaning; make you own alcohol. The germs the alcohol doesn’t poison, will be so intoxicated, they’ll probably fall off the counter. Have a few gulps yourself, and you’ll find you care less about little critters you can’t see, dancing around, trying to exist, like the rest of us. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, not sterilization.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sarah Marie

    one thing to remember with all of this is that when cleaning, it was recommended that white vinegar & H2O2 be used together in succession. i always figured that meant the 2 work better together to be more broad spectrum than by themselves.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • shalom

    “Peroxide oxygenates the wound but if you go to a hospital or urgent care with a cut that needs to be stitched, they will use the iodine phenolic that I previously mentioned. It is for human contact, the ammonium quartenary that I mentioned is for use on hard surfaces only.”

    Years ago, before there was much internet access, my son’s thumb got infected on one side of the nail. I used hydrogen peroxide to clean the area then I put Neosporin and a bandaid on it. It started looking worse & he had to go to the doctor for some other reason. While there I asked the doctor to look at it. It said it looked fine, to keep doing what I was doing. I guess it was just looking worse as it was starting to heal. But anyway, he didn’t tell me to put iodine or anything else on the thumb. It was only a few days and the thumb was fine. At the time I didn’t realize peroxide would kill bacteria, but I figured it would bubble impurities out.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • shalom

    BTW, about sterilizing needles. If you are in a situation where you can’t sterilize it properly rub it on the patients skin so it has the same bacteria as the person has. I’ve done it with no problem.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Georgette

    Hello Katie,
    I LOVE your blog! I just wanted to write you about not using peroxide on cuts b/c of oxidation & slower healing. I do not believe that to be true at all. My 1 yr old daughter got a second degree burn on her tender belly from hot water. We were instructed to pour straight peroxide on it twice a day for a week. It healed beautifully & kept it infection free. Also, just this week my friend took her 10 yr old in for a nasty infection in her finger. It was through the skin down into the bone & joint! The first thing they did was soak it in a peroxide bath. So, I don’t really believe that nurse knew all about peroxide. Just thought you would like to know!
    Take care & God Bless!
    Georgette

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Thanks, Georgette! It always amazes me how there can be so many conflicting sources on everything I care about (food and natural health)! Time for more research…. ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sarah Marie

    I think it depends on the health care provider. I work in a veterinary clinic with three doctors, one doctor has no problem cleaning wounds with peroxide, whereas the other two both have their scrub of choice. It can be irritating on the tissues, but it still get’s the job done.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Bonnie Jean

    A thought on the hydrogen peroxide before you use it for cleaning up after raw chicken… I looked at the EPA website you linked to and noted that “In the home, hydrogen peroxide can be found in diluted form (3 percent); this formulation may be used to treat human cuts and scrapes. Hydrogen peroxide for industrial uses has a concentration of 30 percent or greater.” Most of us probably don’t have salmonella just waiting on our skin with normal cuts and scrapes, so possibly to be used with chicken (are “food establishments” industrial use?) do you want a higher concentration than you can just buy?

    [Reply to this comment]

  • jackie

    coming late to the party, but when I worked in a burn unit (where there are both a lot of germs around, including pseudomonis and strep and a large necessity to keep them from the patients) we wiped down all hard surfaces every day, including the debriding tubs with full strenght vinegar and left it to dry. Seems if it was good enough for the burn unit it is good enough for me…been using vinegar ever since I worked there some 25 years ago.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Jackie,
    Wow! That is one superb testimony. I’m framing this comment. ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Amanda Dunne

    This reminds me of a time when I was working in a shopping centre and all our secure area alarms were going off. We had all our guys onto it, thinking of minimising any threats. Turns out it was a retired fireman who thought he would check out our fire exits (in the process making our job more difficult).

    [Reply to this comment]

  • hannah

    When I was a kid we always had to use hydrogen peroxide on cat scratches and stuff. It was always dreaded, and I remember watching the cut ‘foam’. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned that peroxide was no longer recommended for such things, and as the nurse told you, soap and water was preferred.
    Now I just use good ole soap and water.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Dori

    Hi Katie,

    I’ve been following your blog for a long time and love it. Thanks for all your hard work.
    I’m wondering what this looks like step-by-step. I use a green and yellow scrubbing sponge for my kitchen work.
    So, after preparing meat would I clean my counter, cutting board, and knives with soap and water and then lay them on the counter and spray with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide? Then I would disinfect my sponge and sink as well? And all of these would air dry right?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Dori,
    Yes, essentially. The sponge can go into the microwave for a few minutes as I understand; I usually use washcloths. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

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I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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