Proper Use of Disinfectants in the Households and Schools

Resources and Information

Since the first lab-confirmed case of coronavirus was reported in January 2020, the number of calls to poison control centers has increased dramatically due to exposures to cleaners and antimicrobials, including disinfectants. These products can cause adverse health effects when misused. If you suspect an adverse health effect from using any of these products, contact the National Poison Control Center for guidance. The call center is available 24/7 and is available nationwide as you will be connected to the regional center.

Consumers have access to both cleaners and antimicrobials and need to understand where each product can be safely used and what each is capable protecting against. Regardless of which product you are using, READ THE PRODUCT LABEL carefully to avoid adverse effects!

  • Surface Cleaners are intended to remove germs, dirt and impurities from impermeable surfaces. They do not kill germs, but by removing them, they lower the numbers of germs and reduce the risk of spreading infections. Some example of cleaners include Green® Works Multi-Surface Cleaner, method® all-purpose cleaner or Fabuloso® All Purpose Cleaner. Check the product label, some may contain “KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN”, and SHOULD NOT be used by children. Children should only use soap and water for cleaning surfaces.
  • Antimicrobials are products that kill or slow the spread of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, protozoans and fungi that cause mold and mildews. Antimicrobials should be used after cleaning surfaces and by persons trained or knowledgeable in use of these products. Two common types of antimicrobials used around the home are sanitizers and disinfectants.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates antimicrobial products, including sanitizers, as drugs or antiseptics which are used to treat or prevent disease on people, pets and other living things. An example would be hand-sanitizing wipes. Sanitizers reduce but do not necessarily eliminate microorganisms. Read the information on EPA’s role in regulating antimicrobials.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates certain antimicrobials, typically referred to as disinfectants, as pesticides. If the product label has “EPA” anywhere on the label, you know it is a pesticide and NOT intended for use on the body. Because disinfectants are pesticides, you MUST only use them as directed by the label. Using disinfectants does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but when used after cleaning, can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Refer to the CDC information on how to clean and disinfect your home and school guidance (Resources).

If a person is asthmatic or has other chronic respiratory disease, exposure to disinfectants can be incapacitating. To minimize effects, avoid using aerosols or spray disinfectants. Use products that reduce inhalation exposure such as wipes or dampened towels to disinfect surfaces. ALWAYS follow label directions and wash hands after using disinfectant products.

REMEMBER:

  • Never use disinfectants or disinfectant wipes on your skin. Instead, wash with soap and water. You can also use hand sanitizer on your hands.
  • Children should NEVER clean surfaces with sanitizers or disinfectants.
  • Never wash fruits and vegetables with soap, sanitizers, or disinfectants as this could also result in poisoning. Read FDA tips for cleaning produce.

Additional Resources

CDC Resources

National Pesticide Information Center – Antimicrobial information

Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards: Selecting an Appropriate Sanitizer or Disinfectant

EPA Guidance

Additional Guidance