spreading flu

This or That: Kill Flu Germs with Bleach or Disinfectant?

There are lots of ways to wipe out flu microbes, but some of them could be unhealthy for your home.

This or That: Kill Flu Germs with Bleach or Disinfectant?

Wipe out swine flu germs, without unhealthy aftereffects.

If you have a family member or roommate who's succumbed to the flu, inadvertently spreading germs could be as easy as touching a sink faucet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends disinfecting all hard surfaces to avoid spreading flu microbes around your house. But while many household disinfectants such as chlorine bleach, and ammonia-based products like Lysol, are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency to kill the flu virus, they also contain harsh chemicals that may cause respiratory damage, long-term hormone disruption, and harm to the environment. On the other hand, natural disinfectants like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, which have been tested and found to kill certain foodborne illnesses, germs, and other microbes, don't have an established track record against the flu virus. So how should you keep from spreading flu around your home without putting your long-term health at risk?

This: Chlorine Bleach

Pros: Chlorine bleach is effective at killing viruses, including strains of the flu, as well as bacteria, because it actually penetrates the germs' outer membranes to kill them completely. In fact, a 2007 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that chlorine was a much more effective disinfectant than standard antibacterial products, which are ineffective against viruses. Because you mix it with water, a little bit can go a long way.

Cons: In addition to potentially singeing your respiratory tract and irritating your skin, chlorine is a common cause of poisonings in children under 6 years old. Production of chlorine is also one of the leading emitters of mercury into the environment, and its production releases cancer-causing dioxin, which accumulates in cow's milk and other animal fats.

That: Household Disinfectants

Pros: Nonchlorine household disinfectants use a variety of ingredients, such as ammonia (in Lysol), alcohol, and pine oil, to sanitize your surfaces. Many health professionals recommend using an ammonia-based disinfectant as an alternative to chlorine-based ones to clean up after flu outbreaks.

Cons: Ammonia can be hard on your lungs and, like chlorine, can cause serious problems if you get some splashed on your skin or in your eyes. Furthermore, these products often combine their active ingredients with other toxic chemicals that allow them to function better. Examples include solvents such as glycol ethers, which are classified as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act and can damage the reproductive system. In addition, these products are scented with artificial fragrances that may contain phthalates, synthetic chemicals that have been linked to asthma and reproductive problems. One final con: Cleaning-product manufacturers aren't required to list ingredients on their packages, so you really have no way of knowing which chemicals you're being exposed to.


Published on: October 26, 2009

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Disinfectants are different

Disinfectants are different from other antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics, which destroy microorganisms within the body, and antiseptics, which destroy microorganisms on living tissue. -Mario Romano

Mixing Chlorine & Vinegar

You should not mix the two because it causes a chemical reaction that releases some Chlorine gas.

Why not vinegar?

Probably because it doesn't kill flu virus!


We agree that applying a solution of bleach and water to hard surfaces is a great way to disinfect hard surfaces. Just add 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water to mix up a germ-busting surface disinfectant.

To say that chlorine production is a leading emitter of mercury and dioxin into the environment is simply not true. Bleach is made by chemically reacting chlorine and lye (sodium hydroxide). No dioxin is produced during the manufacture of bleach. And mercury is used in only four U.S. facilities in to help produce chlorine. The global chlorine industry is a very small source of mercury emissions – accounting for less than one-tenth of one percent of total global emissions of mercury from all natural and man-made sources.

Scott Jensen, American Chemistry Council


Why not vinegar?

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