Disinfectant - Home Disinfectants

Home Disinfectants

By far the most cost-effective home disinfectant is the commonly used chlorine bleach (a 5% solution of sodium hypochlorite), which is effective against most common pathogens, including difficult organisms such as tuberculosis (mycobacterium tuberculosis), hepatitis B and C, fungi, and antibiotic-resistant strains of staphylococcus and enterococcus. It even has some disinfectant action against parasitic organisms.

Positives are that it kills the widest range of pathogens of any inexpensive disinfectant, is extremely powerful against viruses and bacteria at room temperature, is commonly available and inexpensive, and breaks down quickly into harmless components (primarily table salt and oxygen).

Negatives are that it is caustic to the skin, lungs, and eyes (especially at higher concentrations); like many common disinfectants, it degrades in the presence of organic substances; it has a strong odor; it is not effective against Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium; and extreme caution must be taken not to combine it with ammonia or any acid (such as vinegar), as this can cause noxious gases to be formed. The best practice is not to add anything to household bleach except water. Dilute bleach can be tolerated on the skin for a period of time by most persons, as witnessed by the long exposure to extremely dilute "chlorine" (actually sodium or calcium hypochlorite) many children get in swimming pools.

To use chlorine bleach effectively, the surface or item to be disinfected must be clean. In the bathroom or when cleaning after pets, special caution must be taken to wipe up urine first, before applying chlorine, to avoid reaction with the ammonia in urine, causing toxic gas by-products. A 1-to-20 solution in water is effective simply by being wiped on and left to dry. The user should wear rubber gloves and, in tight airless spaces, goggles. If parasitic organisms are suspected, it should be applied at 1-to-1 concentration, or even undiluted. Extreme caution must be taken to avoid contact with eyes and mucous membranes. Protective goggles and good ventilation are mandatory when applying concentrated bleach.

Commercial bleach tends to lose strength over time, whenever the container is opened. Old containers of partially used bleach may no longer have the labeled concentration.

Where one does not want to risk the corrosive effects of bleach, alcohol-based disinfectants are reasonably inexpensive and quite safe. The great drawback to them is their rapid evaporation; sometimes effective disinfection can be obtained only by immersing an object in the alcohol.

The use of some antimicrobials such as triclosan, in particular in the uncontrolled home environment, is controversial because it may lead to the germs becoming resistant. Chlorine bleach and alcohol do not cause resistance because they are so completely lethal, in a very direct physical way.

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