You might be the reason your disinfectants aren’t fully effective or safe, and not even know it. Fortunately, that’s an easy fix. With awareness of common user mistakes, you and your disinfectants will become a stronger defense together in no time.
Consider these eight ways you might be secretly (and unknowingly) ruining your disinfectants’ power, safety, and longevity. Change the following faulty cleaning habits to improve disinfectant results against viruses, bacteria and other unwelcome germs in your home.
8. Not Cleaning Before Disinfecting
Did you wash those dirt-smudged doorknobs before you disinfected them? Turns out it’s pretty important that you do.
In their guidelines for coronavirus protection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that “Visibly dirty surfaces should be cleaned prior to disinfection.” This is because the active ingredients in your disinfectant require a clean surface to work properly.
When grime, spilled food, and other solid waste become mixed with your disinfectant, the germ-fighting solution can be compromised.
We’re not just talking about pre-cleaning kitchen countertops, doorknobs and bathroom surfaces. The CDC recommends pre-cleaning both non-porous (glass, plastic, metal) and porous (rugs, carpets, seating areas) surfaces before applying disinfectants.
7. Adding Other Cleaners to Your Disinfectants
Before combining disinfectants X and Y to ramp up their collective cleaning power, consider how that could actually affect both products. More importantly, combining disinfectants could cause serious harm to people and pets.
According to the Toxins Use Reduction Institute (TURI), mixing certain disinfectants — particularly ammonia cleaners with bleach — can create toxic gases called chloramines. Especially when released in enclosed spaces (your home, car, garage), these gases are harmful when inhaled and could cause death to humans and animals.
Don’t even add bleach to your toilet bowl cleaner and other acid-based cleansers. Toxic fumes from these disinfectant combinations aren’t worth the risk to your health.
6. Improperly Diluting Your Disinfectants
It’s common practice to dilute bleach for household disinfecting. However, mixing water with various disinfectants might dilute them to the point of being ineffective.
It’s also possible you’re adding too little water when dilution is recommended. This could be especially problematic in a home with children and pets, where strong disinfectants like bleach should be used with extra caution.
Before diluting disinfectants, do your homework first. Find guidelines online from reliable sources, and consult the product manufacturer’s recommendations.
5. Not Understanding How Disinfectants Work
Speaking of doing your homework, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how different disinfecting cleaners battle different germs, and the basic terms and ingredients associated with each.
What’s the difference between a microbial and a chelating agent? Why does your disinfecting cleaner contain ingredients like alcohol ethoxylate? (It helps remove oily soils from surfaces and fabrics, FYI.) The American Cleaning Institute makes it easy to answer these questions and more with their Ingredient Glossary.
Becoming familiar with how disinfectants work and why also keeps you in-the-know about using each of these products safely.
4. Leaving Disinfectants in Extreme Temperatures
Do you store disinfectant in the garage or another place that isn’t temperature controlled? Most mass-produced household disinfectants are made to work best at room temperature (about 68 °F or 20 °C). Extreme temperatures above or below that baseline can ruin disinfectants and cause safety hazards.
In very cold temperatures, the chemical reactions of certain ingredients are slowed. Extreme heat can not only compromise the level of viruses and bacteria you eliminate from your home; an overheated disinfectant can explode. Remember, alcohol-based disinfectants and sanitizers are flammable.Related: 7 Germiest Spots to Avoid at the Grocery Store
3. Not Following Specific Disinfectant Instructions
Think twice before ignoring the recommended directions for a disinfectant’s use. That’s another way you could render it ineffective and unsafe.
Pay close attention to the recommended quantity, dilution (if required), surface material, and contact time for each application.
It’s also important to follow the proper storage instructions for each disinfectant you keep on hand.
And if you’re trying a homemade disinfectant, go back to #5 in this list. You’ll need to learn about the ingredients and how they react together. Or replace that solution with a product with instructions you can trust.
2. Leaving Disinfectants in Compromised Containers
Oxidation is what happens when something combines with oxygen. You do not want your disinfectants to be altered by prolonged oxygen exposure, so keep the lids on tight and make sure their containers are in good shape.
You also don’t want disinfectants leaking through container cracks, or evaporating into your home (or car or shed). It’s alarming how quickly volatile chemicals can become airborne in the form of gasses and inhaled.
1. Overlooking Expiration Dates
Did you already guess this one? More of us should. Perhaps the most obvious way you could be secretly ruining your disinfectants is by using them past their expiration dates.
You might still destroy some germs with an expired disinfectant, but possibly not enough. Clean out your cabinets periodically and let those outdated disinfectants go.
Be sure to dispose of disinfectants properly as well. Many of these products can be considered household hazardous waste, requiring special handling for disposal. Check with the EPA and other reliable sources for best practices when discarding outdated or compromised disinfectants.Related: 10 Disinfectants That Kill Coronavirus Faster Than Lysol Wipes