Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Green Cleaners Not Always the Best Choice

Environmental Nutrition, January 1996, 19(1):3


"Recipes for alternative handmade "green" cleaners may sound like a good idea both environmentally and economically, but don't expect these products to kill the nasty germs that lurk on kitchen counters and other household surfaces.

"While some sources, including the popular new book The Safe Shopper's Bible (Macmillan USA, 1995) advocate the use of homemade cleaners, studies have found that products made with ingredients like vinegar, borax, baking soda or ammonia are less effective than commercial cleaners in reducing microbial contamination.

"In fact, most mix-at-home or green cleaners have no disinfectant properties at all. In essence, bacteria are simply removed from surfaces and transferred to the sponge. This practice can lead to the spread of germs either by direct contact with hands or the transfer of organisms from the sponge to other surfaces.

"To be sure the product you buy kills germs like Salmonella, look for a disinfectant with an Environmental Protection Agency registration number on the label. It will say E.P.A. REG NO., followed by a number. You will need to follow the package directions, which may say to leave the cleaner on surfaces for a long as 10 minutes before wiping off. "

Melissa Kaplan asks readers to please note:

I have received several letters from people demanding to know what my sources were for this article. Seems they missed the fact that it is a reprint of an article that was published in the Environmental Nutrition newsletter in 1996.

Based on the letters I have received from people after they read this article, it is clear that there is a basic lack of understanding of the difference between "cleaning" and "disinfecting". Products made for cleaning are generally not made for disinfecting surfaces, and those that are have special instructions as to how the product must be used to effect disinfection, instructions most people don't read and so don't realize that they aren't achieving disinfection. For a more complete discussion of cleaning and disinfecting, please read my article Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing: How they are different and why you need to know. Written for herpers, it is nonetheless a good overview for non-herpers of this subject.

A note about EPA registration numbers: Dial Antimicrobial Hand Soap contains an ingredient, Triclosan, that has been recently approved for use as an effective antimicrobial agent in handsoaps. The packaging for this soap, however, does not contain an EPA number. Many products do carry a toll-free number for the product manufacturer. Use it when their product packing leaves you uncertain as to what the ingredients are and to ask for such information as the EPA registration number. Don't get too excited about Triclosan, however...

Finally, I have received several letters from people demanding to know what other antimicrobials are approved by the EPA. I don't know. I didn't write the above article. If you want to know, contact the EPA.

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