Chicken with a side of bleach, anyone?
I used to have a bottle of diluted bleach water under my sink (which was likely often way too strong because I didn’t realize quite how diluted it could be and still be effective), and I would whip it out when I cooked with raw chicken or killed a spider on the kitchen counter.
Ruining a brand new shirt because it brushed against the edge of said counter wasn’t the only reason I was happy to get rid of that bottle once I started doing more research into natural cleaners.
People often ask me about bleach alternatives, and last month at my local Bible study I got that question again, particularly for raw chicken, something people have certainly been taught to fear (when in reality pet turtles are probably even more dangerous).
The conversation was held across a table in a room full of toddlers running around, so it wasn’t exactly a private question. I was thrilled when another gal who is a nurse chimed in about cleaning baby toys and reported that the hospital she works at uses simple hydrogen peroxide wipes to clean toys that are shared between patients (along with a number of other surfaces).
I was off to do some research to see how prevalent hydrogen peroxide is as a hospital-grade disinfectant and what concentration it needed to be, and it’s all good news for us naturally minded mamas!
Until now, I’d learned about the dangers of bleach (brightly colored shirts aside), an old research study that showed that hydrogen peroxide and vinegar sprayed separately killed bacteria and germs, and some updated research on that topic after being challenged by a reader. (That post has a plethora of sources that show that hydrogen peroxide does, in fact, kill germs, even at the 3% solution sold in pharmacies for home use.)
From that I formulated my routine of the 3 simple cleaners under my sink (no bleach!) that I use for just about everything in the house.
I had heard that Thymol-based disinfectants and hand sanitizers were approved for use in daycare centers, and now to find out that hospitals can and do use simple, safe hydrogen peroxide wipes for cleaning is really encouraging. Sometimes it feels like the world is a bleach bomb waiting to explode, especially in government-regulated public places, and I’m so glad it’s not.
Exploring Hydrogen Peroxide Wipes – What’s in There?
I’m determined to use hydrogen peroxide even more in our home – I am not supposed to use vinegar on our hardwood floors and have already defaulted to my H2O2 bottle since moving here, and I’m even wondering if I could add some hydrogen peroxide to my homemade baby wipes solution to keep mold from growing inside the very moist container.
I’ve used tea tree oil or a germ-fighting blend of essential oil in the past to stave of bacterial and fungal growth, but I’ve since learned that blend is probably not so safe for children (sigh) so I wish I hadn’t. (Do you know which essential oils you shouldn’t use around kids? You need to.)
I am wondering if peroxide would only kill germs that are already on the wipes/in the box and then quickly break down into oxygen and water, or if it would continue to offer preservative protection for my wipes. Any thoughts on that?
I checked out some commercial brands of hydrogen peroxide based wipes, and may I first complain that product ingredients shouldn’t be so veiled and hard to find!? I really respect a company that shares their ingredients wherever their products are sold. Just sayin’.
Here’s what I could dig up:
Lysol Power and Free Multi-Purpose Cleaning Wipes
(found on Amazon)
- hydrogen peroxide
- citric acid
- isopropyl alcohol
- sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate
- sodium xylenesulfonate
- sodium sulfate
The purpose of the ingredients are as follows:
- H2O2 is the only antimicrobial
- 4 ingredients are “solvents”
- 3 are “surfactants” (a fancy word for soap)
- citric acid is a complexing/sequestering agent, whatever that means
Clorox Healthcare Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaner Disinfectant Wipes(found on Amazon)
- full ingredients are unavailable that I can find, but the Material Safety Data Sheet for the product lists hydrogen peroxide (1-5% concentration) and benzyl alcohol (1-5% concentration).
My guess? They seem really expensive to me for as simple as hydrogen peroxide is.
I bet you could do this DIY with some hydrogen peroxide and a drop of natural soap concentrate in water. (See Monday’s post for a little green cleaning challenge, a few ingredients to watch out for a a super natural soap company with a coupon code!)
Remember that whenever you store hydrogen peroxide, it needs to be away from light and air, which will break it down into water and oxygen – not as handy for cleaning and disinfecting.
Is Your Brain Clean? A Vocabulary Lesson
Most moms I know complain that their vocabulary is quickly diminishing (you know, going away…), so it’s worth a moment to differentiate between cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing.
For the record, hydrogen peroxide is listed as chemical disinfectant by the CDC in the Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities (2008), not a method of sterilization. That document (all 150+ pages of it) is the source for this section.
Cleaning is simply the physical act of removing substances from a surface, likely a combination of dirt and dust plus living organisms like bacteria. Cleaning can be done with a dry rag, a wet cloth (water only) or most effective with soap and water, no triclosan or antibacterial chemical needed.
Disinfecting doesn’t just remove dirt and germs, it describes a process that “eliminates many or all pathogenic microorganisms, except bacterial spores, on inanimate objects.” (according to the CDC)
A disinfectant does kill bacteria, just not spores, which only come into play in a small number of diseases, mostly the kind you’d get in a hospital. For cleaning your home and keeping your family safe, this is the level you want to pay attention to.
Sterilizing is the top dog, used pretty much only for medical instruments that are going to enter your body.
It “destroys or eliminates all forms of microbial life.” Heat or steam is a major method of sterilizing, and any liquid sterilizing agents have to be left on the surface for quite some time (not just a minute or two or a few seconds after spraying and wiping a counter).
In your home, you are likely not sterilizing anything, nor do you really need to 99.9% of the time.
But you do still have to clean! Just because hydrogen peroxide is effective in killing bacteria doesn’t mean you can just spray it on everything and assume they are safe for your kids to chew on…
Why? The CDC again:
“Because maximum effectiveness from disinfection and sterilization results from first cleaning and removing organic and inorganic materials.”
In other words, wipe clean first, even if you just use a dry microfiber cloth, then disinfect.
The Tale of a Slippery Floor
I mentioned above that I have been using hydrogen peroxide and water (50/50 blend) to clean my hardwood floors. I don’t really mop, honestly, but with the amount of spot cleaning we have to do for spills and dropped food, I’m pretty sure the floor gets clean enough over the course of a month.
This week my 3-year-old dropped a bowl of soup in the kitchen, thankfully while carrying it to the dishwasher and not to the table. There wasn’t much left in it, but a decent mess nonetheless.
We cleaned it up with a rag and then squirted it down the the H2O2 bottle and wiped again.
The floor was SO slippery all day! I thought, “Oh, dear, I guess this is what ‘clean floor’ feel like! Perhaps I need to mop from time to time…”
The next day, however, the area caught the light correctly and I could see that there was still a ton of residue there. I realized that the fat component of my homemade chicken stock had clearly remained on the floor even after what I thought was a thorough wiping. We were literally greased up to slide across the floor in our socks!
Much to my 9-year-old’s dismay – he much enjoyed messing around on the slippery floor – I sprayed the area with Branch Basics (new formula, even better!) (product being reformulated, check back later!) , wiped again, and all was well. Shiny, but not uncannily slippery.
I tell that story because it’s a pretty clear reminder of the need for a two-fold approach to cleaning in most circumstances – first remove the dirt/grease/grime using something with soap, then disinfect with hydrogen peroxide. That would be why the commercial wipes I shared above have both a surfactant (soap) and a disinfectant in them at once.
How to Do it Without Bleach
When my first was a baby, I bought a lot of toys and even the high chair second hand.
I have distinct memories of drawing a sink full of hot water, adding some bleach, scrubbing the surface of the toys or high chair tray with baking soda to get the grime off, then soaking or dipping in the bleach water.
I also used bleach-based toilet cleaners, then switched to vinegar, but I think that’s been too acidic and is starting to eat away the sealant on the seat.
Hydrogen peroxide is my new best friend for disinfecting.
“Among the products recommended for home disinfection of reusable objects are bleach, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide. APIC recommends that reusable objects (e.g., tracheostomy tubes) that touch mucous membranes be disinfected by immersion in 70% isopropyl alcohol for 5 minutes or in 3% hydrogen peroxide for 30 minutes. Additionally, a 1:50 dilution of 5.25%–6.15% sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) for 5 minutes should be effective.” (source)
Toilets, inside and out? Fill an opaque spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide (or attach a spray nozzle directly to the peroxide bottle) and use it regularly. Just remember that if you spray and then wipe off right away, spray once again and leave it to dry for maximum germ-killing power.
Baby toys? Spray with straight hydrogen peroxide, wipe H2O2 on with a cloth, or soak in a sink full of water with some peroxide added (that might dilute it too much; use your own judgment).
Even fabrics and plush toys!
The CDC guidelines I quoted above also cite a study that “demonstrated the effectiveness of spraying fabric with 3% hydrogen peroxide” to prevent the spread of disease from one patient to the next on room-dividing curtains. Sounds good enough for second hand toys to me!
And chicken in the kitchen.
And toothbrushes and lightswitches.
Particularly after an illness runs through your house, it’s a great idea to soak toothbrushes in a cup of hydrogen peroxide and take your trusty spray bottle and a rag (to catch drips from running down the walls and pre-clean the surface before the spray that will sit there) and disinfect all the lightswitch plates and doorknobs in the house.
Just remember that when disinfecting with hydrogen peroxide (with anything, really), you need to leave the solution sitting there for 5-60 minutes, depending on how diluted it is and how nasty the germs you’re trying to kill are.
H2O2 is rated for big nasties like staph, e. coli, some drug-resistant bacteria, influenza, norovirus and more, which is awesome!
If hospitals can do it, you can too.
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.
Unless notes, images that are not my own are from GraphicStock. Used with permission.