When to Go for the Kill Shot — a Guideline for Disinfecting

Truman’s was founded on the belief that less is more, when it comes to both plastics and cleaning products. That goes for germs, too: the less germs in the house, the more, er, better. But we also know that too much focus on germ-killing can lead to trouble.

Unfortunately, a lot of cleaning products either haven’t gotten that message, or they’re choosing to ignore it. They’re the ones vowing to wipe out every last microbe in the home, with labels that carry as many warnings as a prescription drug ad. What’s wrong with that? Well, to start:

  1. There are lots of good microbes out there. Without microbes we wouldn’t have bread, cheese, or IPAs!
  2. It can actually promote super-bad microbes.
  3. Microbes return at an amazing rate.
  4. Harsh, potentially harmful chemicals are involved.

It’s also made shopping for cleaning products incredibly confusing: Is cleaning enough? Do we need to disinfect too? And what about the fact that chemical manufacturers themselves say claims of a 99.9% kill rate are basically poppycock?  

Because we’re often asked whether Truman’s products work as disinfectants, we decided to tackle the whole cleaning vs. disinfecting issue head-on. Hopefully, we can clear up close to 99.9% of the confusion!

But you don’t have to take our word for it…

Since the subject is germs, we turned to the medical community for help. Naturally, we consulted the go-to site for clarifying all vital health-related issues: WebMD. OK, that’s kind of a joke, but in this case the site’s recommendations square with those of other medical experts (the ones who aren’t on the payroll of some chemical company, at least). Here’s what Matthew Hoffman, M.D., wrote:

Keeping your home clean doesn't require weapons of mass disinfection. Antibacterial and harsh cleansers are usually unnecessary, and some raise concerns about our health and the environment. These products don't work any better than their natural or non-toxic counterparts, and they damage the environment and potentially place our long-term health at risk.”

To which we say, Amen, Dr. Hoffman!

At Truman’s, we make non-toxic, kid-friendly products that clean but don’t technically disinfect, because most of the time, that’s enough. The chemicals in disinfectants aren’t needed and can actually harm people and surfaces.

But let’s take a step back here and define a few terms.  For this, we consulted The Centers for Disease Control:

Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but disinfecting a surface after cleaning can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

In other words, cleaners clean, and by cleaning, remove significant numbers of germs, while disinfectants kill germs — when used correctly* — but don’t clean.

And then there’s sanitizing:

Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.

There’s some ambiguous language here — what exactly is a “safe level”? Nevertheless, it’s clear that all these processes lower the “risk of spreading infection.” Where that risk is much greater, such as in health-care facilities and other public spaces — daycares, schools, cruise ships — it’s of vital importance to kill germs. But inside the house, unless there’s a “bug” going around or someone is living with a weakened immune system or other health issue, disinfectants simply aren’t necessary in most areas, most of the time.

Exceptions? Any place where foodborne illnesses might gain a foothold: cutting boards and countertops that come into contact with raw meat or seafood; and, obviously, toilet bowls.

But be careful to use the right product for the job. For example, research has found that hydrogen peroxide is ineffective against salmonella. And disinfecting wipes? Most of the time they’re just ineffective, period.  In fact, the AMA recommends against using them — or antibacterial soap, for that matter.

It’s also important to note that when disinfecting, you must thoroughly clean first, in order to remove as many germs as possible and help the disinfectant finish the job faster. One study cited by the CDC found that while it took 30 minutes for a germicide to kill 10 bacteria spores, it took 3 hours for it to kill 100,000.

First, do no harm and clean

According to the American Lung Association, many cleaners and disinfectants irritate the eyes or throat, and cause headaches and other health problems, including cancer. But we don’t need a health organization to tell us that — we’ve all felt the effects firsthand.

From the moment we conceived of Truman’s cleaners, we knew we wanted no part of harsh chemicals that make eyes burn and throats scratchy. That’s why we’re perfectly happy letting the other guys do the germicidal dirty work while we stick to the cleanup and germ removal. (Find a ranking of least to most harmful disinfectants here.) If we all do our job and wash our hands with plain old soap and water, then most of the time, cleaning is all a home really needs!

Still confused about cleaning vs. disinfecting? We hope not! But if you are, don’t hesitate to contact us. Or contact us to tell us you aren’t. Either way, we want to hear from you! Someday, we could decide to offer a non-irritating, eco-friendly disinfectant. If we do, it will come with clear instructions and a label that’s 100% poppycock-free. And you’ll read about it here first!

*Disinfectants need time to work, and they also must be wet throughout that time. For each product’s “kill time,” check the label.