The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA defines the legal, regulated term of disinfectant as a substance tested in an approved, scientific-method laboratory showing an effective kill within 10 minutes of household-representative microbes.
More Green Disinfectants Needed
All-natural and even homemade cleaners work great, smell great, and are healthy alternatives to the often toxic chemical cleaners, but most green cleaners are not rated as disinfectants by the EPA.
The biggest drawback for alternative natural disinfectants is the lack of evidence-based testing to prove their power compared to EPA-rated disinfectants. In 2000, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did a study which states that vinegar and baking soda each killed 90% of germs versus the 99.99% of EPA-approved disinfectants.
This study measured the kill-rate of baking soda and vinegar as separate substances after 30 seconds and 5 minutes. It did not test the combined kill rate of a 2-step disinfection process of cleaning with baking soda and then vinegar.
Also, this study did not test baking soda or vinegar after 10 minutes. In other studies some natural disinfectants have taken up to 10 minutes to kill organisms. Natural substances may work as disinfectants, but may work slower to equal the kill-rate of chemical disinfectants.
Even bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, in certain concentrations, kills 99.9% of microorganisms in 30 seconds, but still takes up to 10 minutes to kill resistant types of bacteria like MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph.
EPA-Approved Natural Disinfectants
Benefect, the first completely botanical-derived, EPA-approved disinfectant, needs a kill time of 10 minutes for some of the organisms that Bleach kills almost on contact. Yet, on the up side, Benefect, derived from Thyme and citrus, is so non-toxic that you could drink it and not be harmed!
Staphacide, a recently-marketed disinfectant, with the lowest toxicity level for humans, formulated from ionized silver in a citric acid solution, has been rated to kill a broad spectrum of microbes, including MRSA. Staphacide kills most organisms faster than Benefect, but has not been proven to kill the variety of organisms that Bleach kills.
Bleach in Household Disinfection
For now, bleach is the least expensive, most widely available disinfectant with a fast and broad spectrum kill-rate. Benefect and Staphacide each cost approximately $40.00/gallon, compared to the bleach $2.00 or less per gallon cost.
Bleach for household disinfection should not be discounted completely by eco-conscious consumers. It is considered by the EPA as non-carcinogenic and non-toxic to the environment from household cleaning. It is the manufacturing of and industrial use of bleach that have come under fire as causes of environmental pollution.
There is a growing concern over the development of bacteria resistance to antibiotics and disinfectants. Bacteria may be less likely to build up resistance to natural disinfectants. The best bet in the war on harmful microorganisms will be the power of a combination of several natural substances versus the use of a one-dimensional disinfectant. There should further science-based research to confirm non-toxic combinations of known, natural, disinfecting substances to be developed as EPA-rated disinfectants derived from the abundant flora of our plentiful planet.