Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting agents are necessary in many situations to kill or eradicate microbes that may cause infectious diseases as well as allergens and irritants that may trigger avoidable reactions. However, these products may also have unfortunate, and potentially harmful, side effects for tenants, pets, and the environment.
The chemicals in these products may make their way into the environment—air, water, and soil, eventually causing problems for our waterways and wildlife.
Safer, Greener Products Have Less Impact on the Environment
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates and approves sanitizers and disinfectants in the United States. Currently, sanitizing or disinfecting agents such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or quaternary (quat) are the base ingredients of most EPA-registered sanitizers and disinfectants.
Certainly, these EPA-registered disinfectants are effective. However, alternative products are available that are just as effective; yet produce fewer residues or emissions, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs); and have less impact on the environment.
The EPA, through the Safer Choice program, has set in motion measures to bring green-certified disinfectants to the market. The EPA will enlist the help of states and the rollout should begin later this year.
Disinfectants that Fulfill the Safer Choice Screening Process – The EPA’s Safer Choice program has a screening process that if fulfilled by a product signifies that the product has reduced impact on a user and the environment, while possessing requisite potency for disinfection.
The active ingredients used in the production of these disinfectants include citric acid, acetic acid, hydrogen peroxide et cetera.
These products are now in use in schools, medical, apartments, and other facilities.
Ozone or Steam Vapor
This option is entirely free of chemicals. Temperature is the primary factor that influences the germ-killing ability of steam vapor. The system should heat water to at least 250 degrees Fahrenheit for it to be effective.
For better protection, it may be necessary to apply a disinfectant after using steam.
Typically, manufactures of these systems advice against use of the systems without cleaning solutions or disinfectants. However, independent laboratory tests show that the systems are effective even without accompanying use of chemicals.
Still, applying a disinfectant after using a spray-and-vac system may be necessary for better protection of the health of occupants.
Best Practice Disinfection Tips
- Endeavor to use sanitizers and disinfectants only when necessary. The misuse and overuse of disinfectants is a growing public health and environmental concern. Research indicates that the use of common disinfectant products create microbes that can mutate into superbugs. Superbugs are forms or strains of microbes that are more resistant to certain disinfectants and antibiotics.
- Clean the surface to remove soils before using disinfectants or disinfectant alternatives. Even when using “one-step” disinfectant-cleaners, ensure that you pre-clean heavily soiled areas.
- Be certain that the disinfectant is appropriate. EPA-registered disinfectants are not effective on all types of germs and bacteria. Therefore, when it is necessary to use a disinfectant, make certain that the kill claim listed on the label indicates that the product can kill the type of microbe that there is concern about. For example, if there is concern about swine flu (H1N1), the product you choose should indicate that it is able to kill the H1N1 virus.
Usage Tips for Standard Disinfectants:
- Use disinfectants with pH value closer to seven (more neutral). These more neutral disinfectants reduce the risk of eye and skin irritation if they come in contact the skin of users.
- Ensure you read and follow all instructions on the product label.
- Do not use a disinfectant with higher concentration than is recommended. The use of a disinfectant with higher-than-recommended concentration would result in increased product waste and associated cost as well as increased adverse environmental impact.