Guide to Green Disinfecting

As fears of the COVID-19 pandemic ramp up, news reports of people hoarding cleaning supplies have dominated the headlines. Here at OEC, we want to remind our readers not to panic. Seriously, please don’t. You do not need to stock up on bleach, disinfecting wipes, or hand sanitizers that have harmful additives to be able to clean or disinfect properly. Rather, regardless of whether there is a pandemic or not, you can still utilize the tried and true solutions creatively, and be more diligent about your own personal cleanliness to keep you and your home healthy and happy.

Here are some eco-friendly and less toxic ways to clean your home and surfaces of germs:*

1. Use castile soap:

Castile soap is a plant-based soap made from oils, such as olive oil. It cleans by lifting dirt, grime and bacteria off surfaces. It can be used on your face, hands, and around the house on wood, countertops, floorboards, etc. In contrast to chemical antimicrobial agents like Tricoslan and Benzethonium chloride that kill but don’t remove contagions, castile soap does not kill contagions, but cleans surfaces by lifting off dirt, grime, and pathogens including bacteria and viruses. Removal of such contagions decreases the chances of exposure.  There is also scientific evidence that some soaps does kill viruses and bacteria by breaking apart their lipid membranes.

  • Green cleaning recipe for castile All-Purpose Cleaning Spray: ¼ c. (60 mL) soap in a quart (1 L) of water in a spray bottle.
  • Optional: For extra microbial punch, add ¼ tsp. (1.25 mL) tea tree essential oil

2. For heavy disinfecting needs, use alcohol:

The CDC has noted that sanitizers with 60-95% alcohol help kill COVID-19 viruses. Chemically, alcohols are organic compounds made from carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Alcohol is less toxic than bleach and other synthetic disingfectants because it evaporates into water vapor and does not leave fumes. Using 70% isopropyl alcohol has been reported to be more effective at killing germs than 91 or 99% alcohol – the key difference is the water content. If stores are out of 70% isopropyl alcohol solution, you can dilute 99% alcohol using this recipe:

  • Make your own hand sanitizer spray by combining 2/3 cup 99% alcohol, 1/3 cup aloe vera gel, and 8-10 drops of your favorite essential oil like lavender in a small spray bottle.
  • If you are pressed for room in your bag, alcohol prep pads can work to wipe off your hands in lieu of hand sanitizer.

3. Hydrogen peroxide as another bleach alternative

Hydrogen peroxide is molecularly composed of two hydrogen and two oxygen atoms. It is non-toxic, odorless and evaporates into water and oxygen, but behaves as a weak acid. Traditionally used in first aid settings, it disinfects by oxidizing and causing spontaneous combustion of organic material such as bacteria and viruses. The CDC has recognized the anti-viral effects of hydrogen peroxide.

  • Cleaning tip: take a darker/tinted spray bottle and empty out the hydrogen peroxide (the tint prevents the solution from breaking down). Do not dilute. Spray directly onto the surface you want to disinfect, and leave for a few minutes before wiping.

4. Vinegar has some anti-microbial effects

While vinegar is not an EPA-registered disinfectant, there is evidence that it is an effective anti-microbial. Cleaning vinegar or distilled white vinegar is 5-6% acid, and also biodegradeble. It kills bacteria and some viruses (ie. the flu virus) and mold/mildew, by chemically changing the proteins and fats, destroying their cell structures. But note it is not effective against ALL types of germs and viruses.

  • Cleaning tip: Vinegar may be applied directly via a spray bottle to metal surfaces like fridges and countertops and glass without damaging the surface. It is best to avoid on surfaces it can damage, like wood or granite. If disinfecting, t is recommended you wipe down a metal surface with soap and water first, and then wipe it down again with vinegar.
  • Fruit and vegetable wash: Fill a spray bottle with 3 parts water and 1 part white vinegar. Spray the produce, then rinse with tap water. You may also soak fruits and vegetables with inedible rinds like oranges, bananas, and avocados.

5. Baking Soda is ineffective as a disinfectant

Although vinegar has a lot of cleaning benefits, it does not have disinfectant properties. Save it for things like brightening laundry whites, freshening your fridge, or cleaning your drain and stainless steel.

Other Disinfecting tips:

  • For materials that cannot be easily sprayed or wiped down like blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, etc., stick them in the dryer on high heat for 45 minutes. It is the heat and moisture-zapping qualities that break apart the cell structures of bacteria and viruses, therefore killing them.
  • If you cannot stick something in the dryer, stick it out in direct sunlight for the day. UV rays have been scientifically proven to kill germs.
  • To help disinfect your air, mix tea tree or eucalyptus oil in a sprayer with some water and spray all over your room. Studies have shown that tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils can kill flu viruses.
  • For small items like a phone case, stick your plastic or rubber phone case in the dishwasher and run it through a full cycle.


*The suggestions here are not all intended to be COVID-specific, but rather general green disinfecting tips.

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2 Replies to "Guide to Green Disinfecting"

  • Cody McGraw
    April 1, 2020 (4:27 pm)

    Informative read! Do you have a recommended brand of Castile Soap to use for cleaning? Thanks.

    • Jamie Pang
      April 1, 2020 (9:13 pm)

      Hi Cody–

      OEC doesn’t endorse specific brands, but from personal experience, some of our staff has used the Dr. Bronners peppermint castille soap with success.