FAQs about Disinfectants and Sanitizers

Q: What is the difference between a disinfectant and a disinfectant cleaner or antibacterial cleaner?

A: Disinfectants contain antimicrobial ingredients that kill germs if surfaces are free from heavy soil. Disinfectant or antibacterial cleaners contain ingredients for removing soil, as well as antimicrobial ingredients that kill germs. Household bleach disinfects when used according to label directions.

Q: What antimicrobial ingredients are used in household cleaning products that kill germs?

A: Common antimicrobial ingredients include pine oil, quaternary ammonium compounds, sodium hypochlorite, phenols and ethanol.

Q: What microorganisms do disinfectants or antibacterial cleaners kill on household surfaces?

A: Depending on the active ingredient(s) and the product formulation, they kill bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, which cause intestinal illness, and Staphylococcus which causes skin infections; fungus that causes athlete’s foot; and viruses such as Herpes simplex, Rhinovirus, which is the leading cause of the common cold; and Rotavirus, the major cause of diarrhea in young children. Read the label to find out specifically which germs the product is intended to kill.

Q: How can I tell if a household cleaning product kills germs?

A: Look for the words “disinfect,” “disinfectant,” “antibacterial” or “sanitize” on the label, as well as a Health Canada registration number, as this ensures that the product has met federal government requirements for killing germs.

Q: Can I use a mix-at-home recipe as a disinfectant?

A: Studies have shown that most mix-at-home recipes have no disinfectant properties at all, particularly when there are health-related reasons for using an antibacterial household cleaning product, such as on a cutting board that might be contaminated with Salmonella or on a surface that has been in contact with someone who is sick. It is important to remember that only disinfectants approved by Health Canada have been tested for their ability to kill germs.

Q: Isn’t a well-cleaned surface free of germs?

A: Proper cleaning and drying remove most of the germs and usually make a surface safe. However, on surfaces used for food preparation, around the toilet or on changing tables, “most” and “usually” may not be enough. Proper cleaning followed by proper use of a disinfectant or a disinfectant or antibacterial cleaner is much safer. Disinfecting the surface also means that the germs have been killed and not just removed to the sponge or other cleaning cloth.

Q: Where in the home is it most important to use a disinfectant or antibacterial cleaner?

A: Areas of food preparation should be cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis. It’s a good idea to clean and disinfect moist surfaces such as sinks and toilets at least every few days, because germs can grow rapidly in a moist environment. If someone is sick, daily cleaning and disinfection are recommended. More frequent disinfection can also help guard the health of those especially vulnerable to infection, such as young children, the elderly, people just home from the hospital or those with chronic serious illnesses.

Q: Do I need to wipe off a surface after disinfecting?

A: Not usually, but be sure to follow the label directions on the product you’re using. Most often the recommendation is to just rinse the surface and let it air dry.