The Best Disinfectant

March 27, 2020

Joe Lyman, DVM, MS

The world is in a rush to buy hand sanitizers and disinfectants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It makes sense, as sanitized hands and environmental disinfection are critical parts of a comprehensive biosecurity plan to control any disease. Disinfectants, however, are not all created equal, and selection of a disinfectant should be done with a few important considerations in mind. 

Which is the BEST disinfectant? If there was a simple answer to that, then the EPA list of disinfectants to be used for COVID-19 disinfection wouldn’t already be 12 pages long and growing. Disinfectants all have unique properties that make them appropriate for use in certain settings and conditions.

There are drawbacks to every disinfectant, however, that may impact your application of the disinfectant in an appropriate and consistent manner to limit the impact of infectious disease. The BEST disinfectant is the one that you’re going to apply correctly and frequently enough to control the spread of disease.

There are many factors that would lead you to not use a disinfectant correctly or often enough. Smell is one of the factors that people frequently object to with disinfectants. A product that results in an unbearable stench may be perfectly fine for a facility that is disinfected at night and then left empty, but is hardly going to be the best solution for a household struggling to keep the family healthy.

Corrosivity and surface compatibility also impact our use of disinfectant products. Many chemistries, like bleach and hydrogen peroxide, can damage surfaces over time, particularly if not rinsed appropriately after the contact time has been reached. While you’re not likely to notice it at first, as damage begins to show you will likely decrease the application of the product in response, either by using less frequently or attempting to dilute the product beyond label instructions. This will lead to a lack of efficacy, however, and the product not accomplishing the desired goal of controlling the spread of disease.

Although cost shouldn’t be the deciding factor in selection, it must be considered. You don’t want to be in the situation of deciding whether to apply a product because you’re concerned about the cost or replacing the product. The cost of a disinfectant has to allow for application based on biosecurity needs and risks, not on the financial consideration of application. Particularly for a relatively easy to kill virus like COVID-19, select a disinfectant that you’re comfortable applying frequently.

The BEST disinfectant is the one you’ll use every time it’s needed, without fail. Select a product that the only consideration you have is the biosecurity need for application, and not whether it will make the house smell bad, ruin the countertop or cost too much to use.