When reducing your waste, especially in the kitchen, it can be difficult to replace convenient disposables and store-bought products with equally effective and easy-to-use alternatives. Sure, there are some great ideas out there, but knowing which ones are worth trying can be tricky. This is a guide for you to use on your low-waste journey, inspired by the questions I’ve had and the mistakes I’ve made. I began searching for the best disinfectants for Covid and other nasty bugs, and found some surprisingly simple solutions, and some harder-to-understand complications. I hope my research can help you navigate the ever-evolving world of eco-friendly cleaning ingredients!
A quick note: this post contains affiliate links! If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help support this blog! Thank you!
Cleaning Vs. Disinfecting; Which Ingredient Does Which?
Cleaning, at least in regards to destroying pathogens, means you clear away physical grime, and with it, wash away some germs; disinfecting is the act of killing the germs on a surface (Municipal Technical Advisory Service of Tennessee). When you disinfect you home, you should always start by cleaning the affected surfaces to increase the effectiveness of your disinfectant. With that in mind, here are several eco-friendly and safe ingredients to think about when making or buying your solutions.
Cleaning before disinfecting is the best way to ensure a healthy home; it gives germs less of a chance to survive on the debris you leave hanging around! Vinegar, although it has been touted as a disinfectant, is more of a standard cleaner than its other eco-friendly counterparts. While it does kill scary bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, it can’t kill covid or a large array of other germs, which means it isn’t recognized as a true disinfectant. According to Healthline, “it contains 5 percent acetic acid, a compound that can dissolve dirt, debris, and grime”, which means it’s a great forerunner to use before a more effective disinfecting agent. If you’re trying to wipe up a mess of crumbs or a dried up spill, vinegar is an excellent choice. Just be sure to double check that your surfaces can handle it, as it is an acid and can cause damage to some surfaces, including hardwood floors. In most cases, it can be used sparingly on stone, especially if you are keeping up with the proper sealing needed for surfaces such as granite, but it should not be used frequently. It can also be used to help deodorize objects and areas with unpleasant smells! I have found success in cleaning out jar lids I save from pasta sauce with it, followed by a bath in hydrogen peroxide and baking soda before a final soapy scrub and alcohol treatment. It definitely has a strong smell, but it is fleeting; it dissipates quickly, especially if you open up the windows while cleaning. Amazon sells white vinegar by the gallon, which I have used and enjoyed!
Soap and warm water is another great cleaning option, and much like vinegar, is best to use before a disinfectant. Germs bind onto the soap and are washed away with the warm water, leaving the surface with fewer pathogens and less debris. It can be used on most surfaces safely, and is easy to wash away with a wet cloth or two. Antibacterial soaps might be slightly more effective at reducing the amount of germs left behind after a good wash, but the difference is negligible according to scientists researching the effects of antibacterial soap versus plain soap for handwashing (Commissioner of the Office, FDA), and over-disinfecting surfaces has been a topic of hot debate. Castile soap or any other liquid soap, is the easiest to use when it comes to cleaning surfaces. Simply dab some onto a cloth, wet, and wipe. Use a fresh wet cloth to mop up the bubbles a few times, followed by a dry cloth. You can create your own castile soap or purchase it at almost any grocery store, making it extremely accessible. You can also purchase it on amazon here. Over time, it can leave a residue on some surfaces, but it is easily removed by using hydrogen peroxide, which can be used, on rare occasion, as a spray and wipe solution, to remove such residue from stone countertops. You can stretch a small bottle of castile soap quite far by diluting it in a separate container as you need it.
Baking soda is another great cleaner, and can be used to break up tough grime in areas such as the bathroom. It is often used in conjunction with hydrogen peroxide to effectively scrub away tough residue. This combination is often used as a simple clothing stain remover as well, applied and scrubbed well before a good wash. It’s an excellent deodorizer as well, making it a great option for stinky shoes and smelly spaces. Many people keep a package of baking soda in their refrigerator for this reason, and replace it every month or so. You can find it at almost any grocery store, as well as in bulk here on amazon. Baking soda is sometimes combined with vinegar and touted as a great way to clean surfaces, but the combination of a base and acid ends up neutralizing the solution, and much of each ingredient’s cleansing power.
Hydrogen peroxide (even at the standard 3% concentration) is effective at killing Covid, Influenza, a variety of other viruses, and even the bacteria that causes strep throat. However, it can’t kill all bacteria, including the dreaded Salmonella bacteria. It’s best to pair hydrogen peroxide with a strong antibacterial solution, or to use one after allowing it to dry. Sciencing.com does a wonderful job explaining why Hydrogen peroxide works for some but not all germs. Check out their article for more information. It is less damaging than alcohol, but can still cause erosion of expensive stone countertops or their sealants, and does need to be left (wet the whole time) for about 10 minutes before wiping dry or allowing to air dry. It can also be used sparingly on laminate countertops. Many people use it to clean and disinfect their hardwood floors, as it won’t strip the sealant or remove their colour when used properly. Flooring-experts.com explains how to use it to effectively reduce the amount of pathogens on your floor, and offers some great insight into other options and their safety for your floors. Read their article here to learn more! You can buy three 16 oz bottles of hydrogen peroxide here on amazon.
Alcohol, more specifically ethyl alcohol, when used at a minimum of 70% concentration, is also able to kill covid, influenza, and a variety of other viruses. Ethyl alcohol was tested and found to be effective at just 40% when used to kill Staphylococci and enteric bacteria. When used sparingly, alcohol is a stellar disinfectant. you need to keep it in contact (wet the whole time) with a surface for a prolonged period, usually 20 minutes, which can be difficult due to its evaporative nature. It can also damage some surfaces when used, and it is highly flammable. For these reasons, it isn’t recommended to be used on flammable or fragile surfaces constantly. It provides an excellent shine, but still has drawbacks, as any other cleaning product might! The Granite Place, a stone surface supplier, recommends disinfecting your stone countertops with 70% alcohol as needed with frequent soap and water wipe downs. By consistently cleaning your countertops with soap and water, you’ll drastically reduce the number of pathogens left on its surface, meaning you won’t need to disinfect as frequently. Check out their article on safely cleaning and disinfecting your stone countertops here. Many people enjoy using alcohol mixed with vinegar and water to freshen up mirrors, which don’t need to be disinfected nearly as much as a countertop or the floor, but tend to need a good washing every so often. You can add the rinds (with the fruit completely removed) of a lemon or an orange to your vinegar for one month before straining it and adding it to the water and alcohol. This adds a pleasant boost of freshness every time you wipe down such surfaces. My mother and I love using a solution like this consisting of 1 part water, 1 part alcohol, and 1 part vinegar infused with lemon rinds. You can buy ethyl alcohol on amazon here.
Citric acid is another powerful disinfectant you can make use of. It can be found naturally in citrus fruits, and is also produced through mold cultivation for large-scale manufacturing. It is often used to break up common bathroom grime, and also has a great track record for killing many bacteria and viruses, including covid. It is, therefore, both a wonderful cleaning solution and a disinfectant (Van De Walle)! Many people use it as a safer, less harsh alternative to bleach, as well. It has been used effectively against some types of fungi, mold, and mildew (Williams). Purdy and Figg does an excellent job explaining the versatility of citric acid, as well as some precautions to take when using it. It’s a corrosive substance on some surfaces, meaning it isn’t a great disinfectant or cleaner to use daily. Check out their article here to learn more. The EPA recommends letting products containing citric acid to sit for 10 minutes in most cases, making it a quicker disinfectant than other options mentioned here. It is an ideal option for scrubbing bathtubs, toilets, and showers, and something I always make use of on soap scum! Pick some up here.
Safe and Effective Mixing of Eco-Friendly Ingredients
When it comes to your home and those you live with, it’s important to make safe decisions. When you call to mind eco-friendly cleaning ingredients, I doubt your first concern is how safe they are to mix; in fact, you may have even switched to them after learning about some of the risks associated with mixing commercial cleaners. However, like any other cleaning product, you need to be aware of what is safe to mix, what isn’t, and what is just plain ineffective. I highly recommend reading this article from Brendid.com, which explains what ingredients you should never mix when it comes to green cleaning.
Right now, the risks of getting covid are at an all-time high. It’s not a great time to be spraying down the counter and hoping your destroying germs. The good news is that there are great disinfecting agents to use in your home that are eco-friendly and low waste! I’ve done some digging and found some great resources for you. An arsenal made up of castile soap, vinegar, ethyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, water, citric acid, and baking soda can clean most if not all surfaces; knowing how and when to use them, however, is the key to a keeping a clean home!
Below is a little guide for what to use on your surfaces and how often to keep your home sparkling! It isn’t the end-all-be-all of natural and safe cleaning, and doesn’t include any commercial products that are also available and valid options! These are just a few ideas to get you started on your eco-friendly cleaning journey. I mentioned a few more in my post, and if you look through the links I have scattered throughout, you’ll be able to find even more amazing tips!
Be sure to check that all of your cleaning products, whether whipped up in your kitchen or not, are safe for people, pets, and the surfaces you use them on. It’s a waste to destroy your hardwood floors with vinegar, upsetting to cause your pet to get sick, and can be costly! Do your research before using any homemade or natural cleaning product to protect your family in the safest way possible.
As always, I encourage you to approach serious topics like health and safety with a robust sense of scientific curiosity. If you don’t understand something, figure out a way to learn. Review the sources I’ve cited for more of the information I gleaned on this topic, but also do your own research as well! I am not a scientist or a doctor with any particular training, just someone looking to effectively clean their home in a safe way. If you find something that contradicts any of the information above, feel free to share it in the comments! I’m always ready to learn and listen, and love exploring new ideas. Let me know how you liked this post and feel free to share! I appreciate any and all interaction with posts like these that take me hours to research and write!
Wolf, D. (2020, April 17). Use of Hydrogen Peroxide for Coronavirus Disinfection. Municipal Technical Advisory Service of Tennessee . Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.mtas.tennessee.edu/system/files/knowledgebase/original/MTAS_Use%20of%20Hydrogen%20Peroxide%20for%20Coronavirus%20Disinfection.pdf
Nunez, K. (2020, August 5). Is vinegar a disinfectant? can it kill bacteria and viruses? Healthline. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/is-vinegar-a-disinfectant#disinfectant-properties
Commissioner, Office. of the. (2019, May 5). Antibacterial soap? You Can Skip it, Use Plain Soap and Water. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/antibacterial-soap-you-can-skip-it-use-plain-soap-and-water
Infection Prevention and Control of Epidemic- and Pandemic-Prone Acute Respiratory Infections in Health Care. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014. Annex G, Use of disinfectants: alcohol and bleach. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK214356/
Van De Walle, G. (2021, September 30). What is citric acid, and is it bad for you? Healthline. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/citric-acid#benefits
Database, P. (n.d.). Citric acid. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Citric-acid#section=Uses
Williams, A. (2021, June 16). Do’s and don’ts of cleaning with citric acid. Purdy & Figg. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://purdyandfigg.com/blogs/natural-tips-and-tricks/a-beginners-guide-to-citric-acid
Angbanzan, R. (Ed.). (2020, May). EPA-registered disinfecting products for consumers. National Jewish Health. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.nationaljewish.org/patients-visitors/patient-info/important-updates/coronavirus-information-and-resources/health-tips/prevention-tips/how-to-disinfect-to-kill-germs/epa-registered-disinfecting-products-for-consumers