6 Steps for Safe & Effective Disinfectant Use FLYER in PDF format

There is little doubt the use of cleaners, sanitizers, disinfectants and sterilizers have increased with the introduction of COVID-19 this spring; even today they rapidly disappear off store shelves when restocked. Unfortunately with their increased use, calls into poison control centers have also increased related to exposure to cleaners and disinfectants. Just because we can buy them off store shelves and use them in our homes does not mean they pose no risk to the user, others in the home or workplace, pets or the environment.

Did you realize that chemical products that are ‘antimicrobial’ are defined as pesticides by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? There are over 4,000 products registered by the EPA to control microbes on inanimate objects/surfaces. That means they are not to be used on a living surface like one’s skin, but can be used on counter tops and other surfaces, following directions and instructions on the label, of course. When was the last time you read the label of a product you grabbed from a store shelf?

Cleaners are just that, products that remove dirt. Since they make no claim to control a ‘pest’, in this case microbes, they are not considered to be pesticides but that does not mean you should not read the label for proper usage directions.

Sanitizers reduce microbes but do not make any claims to control viruses. Thus, we cannot expect sanitizers to completely disinfect or eliminate viruses like COVID-19.Because they claim to reduce microbes, sanitizers are considered pesticides and are therefore regulated. However, depending on where they are used, one of two agencies regulates their use. Hand sanitizer for instance is meant to control microbes on human skin and is therefore regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while surface sanitizers such as wipes or sprays should not be used on skin and are regulated by the EPA. Please check the product label to determine whether a product can be used on your skin.

All disinfectants are registered with the EPA and regulated under FIFRA. Like all antimicrobial pesticides, to become registered they have had to demonstrate their ability to control the microbes they claim to control. Disinfectants can control bacteria, fungi, and viruses. However, disinfectants are not cleaners. Because microbes can be shielded from disinfectants by grime, disinfectants are only effective if you first clean the surface before you disinfect.

Sterilizers will kill all forms of microbes, including spores and are used primarily in medical facilities.

Because COVID-19 is a new virus, many products are not yet labeled for use against the virus. In order to know what disinfectant products you can use against COVID-19 in New York, consult the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NYSDEC) list. This list is frequently updated, based on the EPA list N, but because not all EPA products are registered in NY, you must refer to the NYSDEC list to be sure you are using a product that is legally registered in NY. The current list is available at https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/covid19.pdf.

The products on NYSDEC’s list are expected to kill the COVID-19 virus when used according to the label directions. There is also a six step list for the safe and effective use of disinfectants found at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-04/documents/disinfectants-onepager.pdf which are: 

  1. Ensure the product you are using is approved by the EPA and registered for use in NY by finding the EPA registration number on the label and checking the NYSDEC disinfectant list.
  2. Read and follow the directions on the label; especially the ‘use sites’ and ‘surface sites’ to be sure you are using the product on the correct surfaces. Do not skip over the ‘precautionary statements.’
  3. Disinfectants only work on clean surfaces, so you may need to pre-clean the surface with soap and water.
  4. You want to be sure that the contact time, described in the directions, is followed. Contact time is the amount of time the total surface needs to remain visibly wet with the disinfectant to be assured that the product will work. After contact time has been achieved, some products require that you dry them, while others allow for air-drying- check the product label.
  5. Wear gloves and wash your hands after using the product. Check label for any other precautions that should be taken, such as ventilation. If using disposable gloves, throw them away after cleaning or dedicate a pair of reusable gloves for COVID-19 disinfecting but always wash your hands after removing gloves.
  6. As with all chemicals, keep products tightly closed, safely stored, and out of reach of curious children and pets.

As more communities see a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases take caution to use the correct product in the correct manner to avoid a call to the Poison Control Center.

Credit: The Citizen per David Wilcox the Lake Life section editor. 


Judy Wright
Sr. Agriculture Economic Specialist
315-539-9251 ext. 109

Last updated November 17, 2020