I 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?
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:
- New – CDC
- 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.”
EPAlink now defunct, 2015
- 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.”
- Hydrogen peroxide was successful in killing bacteria including E. coli in this study in the Journal of Food Science (opens as PDF).
- The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified hydrogen peroxide as a Low Regulatory Priority (LRP) drug for use in controlling fungus on fish and fish eggs. (from Wiki)
Research even shows that vinegar and hydrogen peroxide sprayed separately is “more effective at killing …Salmonella, Shigella, or E. coli bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.”
I’ve seen this study quoted many, many places, but here’s the trick: the two solutions MUST be in separate containers and sprayed one after the other. I use the 50/50 blend of H2O2 and my vinegar/water bottle instead of keeping two more bottles of straight H2O2 and vinegar because I’m lazy, and I figure it will still kill *most* of the bacteria, and my hot water and soap will have already done the rest.
If you really want to knock the little guys out (without choking on the fumes), use full strength. I always try to let stuff like this dry on the surface, because I believe that’s where most of the sanitizing action happens. It takes time to wage war on bacteria. When you’re talking stuff like fish and raw chicken, it’s worth the wait.
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, or grab these nice glass ones.
- 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.
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…