The 5 best natural disinfectants to kill germs effectively
- The best natural disinfectants include alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, hot water, and some essential oils.
- Evidence suggests that in some cases, many of these natural disinfectants can be as effective at killing germs as chemical cleaners like bleach.
- Here's what the research says about natural disinfectants and how to use them in your home to kill germs.
- This article was reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
Natural disinfectants may be a suitable alternative to using household cleaners with strong chemicals, whether you're worried about potential
Alcohol is one of the most effective alternatives to chemical disinfectants, says Andrei Tadique, a pharmaceutical scientist and engineer at Emergent BioSolutions.Alcohol kills germs by breaking down their cell walls, but is only effective when used at a high enough concentration — about 60% or more. Many common household cleaners — such as hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and other disinfectants for viruses — contain at least 60% alcohol.
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2. Hydrogen peroxideHydrogen peroxide isn't as effective as some chemical disinfectants, like bleach, but it does effectively kill viruses and bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
For example, in a 2018 study published in Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control, researchers found that hydrogen peroxide was more effective at killing some forms of bacteria than quaternary ammonium compounds, typically found in chemical disinfectants.
You can use the typical 3% hydrogen peroxide concentration found in stores as a disinfectant or you can dilute it to a 0.5% concentration, which still has some effectiveness, by mixing 2.5 parts water and 0.5 parts 3% hydrogen peroxide. Leave the solution on the surface for at least one minute before wiping clean so that it has enough time to effectively kill pathogens.The potency of hydrogen peroxide will reduce when it is exposed to light, so store hydrogen peroxide in a dark container to keep it stable and effective as a disinfectant.
To learn more, read about how hydrogen peroxide can kill germs.
Vinegar is commonly referred to as a natural disinfectant, and while it has some disinfectant properties, it is not as effective as alcohol or hydrogen peroxide at killing pathogens.The main ingredient in vinegar, acetic acid, helps to break down dirt and can reduce bacteria on dirty surfaces. A 2010 study found that 10% malt vinegar reduced the viability of the flu virus and a 2014 study published in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology found a 10% solution effective at killing the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
For more information, read about how vinegar can kill some germs.
4. Hot waterHot water can effectively kill bacteria and viruses, but the water should be at least 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Boiling water, at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, is often used to kill pathogens when cooking or reheating food.
Of course, hot water is even better when combined with soap or another disinfectant, such as when you're washing dishes or clothing. A 2010 study published in the Public Library of Science found that warm water at about 130 degrees Fahrenheit was not effective at killing viruses on its own, but adding a strong oxidizing agent, like bleach, disrupted the viral genome enough to prevent it from spreading.When it comes to disinfecting your clothing, wash at a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The dryer also helps kill germs since they range in heat from about 135 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not attempt to wash your hands or body with water at this temperature, as it can burn or irritate your skin. For more information on using hot water as a disinfectant, read about what temperature kills germs.
5. Essential oils
Some essential oils, like patchouli and cinnamon, may be somewhat effective against certain strains of viruses and bacteria, Tadique says, but there are better alternatives that act on a wider range of pathogens.
Essential oils are thought to work by disrupting the cell membranes of viruses and bacteria, but more research is needed to learn about their chemical nature and how they can be used most effectively as disinfectants."If you're really committed to using essential oils in your cleaning regimen, I recommend using a small amount to provide fragrance to a stronger disinfecting agent like alcohol or vinegar," Tadique says.
The bottom line
Natural disinfectants can be as effective as chemicals in some cases, but not all cleaning products labeled as natural are equally effective.
When disinfecting with natural products, make sure the concentration is high enough to be effective and you've let the solution sit long enough to kill pathogens.
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