Is Your COVID Surface Disinfectant a Health Risk?

Since the Covid-19 outbreak and the need to be vigilant about keeping surfaces clean, disinfecting products have become a focus for consumers.  Most people know that daily cleaning and wiping down surfaces with bleach can be risky to human health and potentially harmful to pets–not to mention harm to certain surfaces, plumbing and the environment when the bleach residue is washed down the drain on a daily basis.  As a result, non-chlorine, bleach alternative surface cleaners and disinfectants have become popular with consumers.  But there are also potential risks to hydrogen peroxide-based cleaning and disinfecting products. The results of a new study reveal that cleaning surfaces with hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectants has the potential to pollute the air and pose a health risk.  Why is that?  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as with bleach, too much exposure to hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners could lead to respiratory, skin, and eye irritation.

Study findings overview

The research team found that mopping a floor with a commercially available hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant raised the level of airborne hydrogen peroxide to more than 600 parts per billion — about 60 per cent of the maximum level permitted for exposure over eight hours, and 600 times the level naturally occurring in the air.

Solutions

To reduce health risks while disinfecting your home or office researchers recommend:

  • Use soap and water instead of a disinfectant — soap and water are known to kill the virus that causes COVID-19.   Add a few drops of dish soap to eight ounces of water.  Although soap and water will not kill all germs, scrubbing with soapy water should be effective in removing coronavirus and other germs from surfaces.
  • Ventilate!  Open a window, turn on a range hood, or use a fan or central air system.  Ventilation can dramatically reduce levels of pollutants circulating in the air and is one of the most effective methods of removing particles that can carry the virus.
  • Choose the lesser evil:  Despite the health risks of frequently using hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant cleaners, it is still less risky than cleaning frequently with bleach.

Journal Reference:  Shan Zhou, Zhenlei Liu, Zixu Wang, Cora J. Young, Trevor C. VandenBoer, B. Beverly Guo, Jianshun Zhang, Nicola Carslaw, Tara F. Kahan. Hydrogen Peroxide Emission and Fate Indoors during Non-bleach Cleaning: A Chamber and Modeling Study. Environmental Science & Technology, 2020; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c04702