Learn about the most common sanitizing ingredients for household use and beyond.

By Jenn Sinrich
January 19, 2021
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If you're curious about how natural cleaning products work or why baking soda is such a powerful ingredient, you've come to the right place. We'll explain the science behind some of the most popular cleaning methods and tools, so you can you clean smarter—not harder. Follow along with Clean Science to see which technique we break down next.

Needless to say, 2020 has been the year of cleaning absolutely everything—during a global pandemic, you wipe down each and every surface (and then you wipe it again). But with so many store-bought cleaners flying off the shelves, it's become a bit of a challenge to get your hands on the right stuff. Luckily, most of the cleaning ingredients used in these products can be purchased separately, which means you can use them to create your own solutions at home. "Many ingredients sanitize," says cleaning expert and Grove Collaborative's Grove Guide, Angela Bell, who adds that their use does depend upon the task at hand. "Keep in mind, though, that sanitizing and disinfecting—especially when you are trying to eliminate specific viruses or pathogens—are two separate things." With that in mind, here are some of the best-known sanitizing ingredients, which kill both on contact, to use at home.

woman disinfecting groceries
Credit: Getty / Susumu Yoshioka

Bleach

Bleach is best known for getting white clothes even whiter, but it also has a strong antibacterial benefit, notes Georgia Dixon, who is also a Grove Collaborative cleaning guru. "Bleach is useful for areas that happen to harbor germs, such as bathrooms and showers," she explains. "Keep in mind, however, that it is a strong chemical cleaner and can be harsh on skin and lungs, so wearing gloves is advised." She recommends diluting bleach with water when cleaning.

Isopropyl Alcohol

This colorless, flammable chemical compound with a strong odor is not usually found in the cleaning aisle—check the first aid section, instead. It does, however, have effective cleaning properties, notes Sarah McAllister, the CEO and founder of GoCleanCo. "Isopropyl alcohol is great for wiping down the high-touch surfaces in our cars and wiping down our laptops and phones because it dries very quickly and leaves no oil traces," she says. "It's not safe, however, for wood or varnished surfaces and it does not kill fungus, such as mold." She recommends using a concentration of 60- to 90-percent to effectively kill bacteria.

Ethyl Alcohol

Like isopropyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol is colorless and flammable, but it smells a bit more like a cocktail. "Ethanol is used as a solvent in cleaning products, such as Lysol, but it is important that you let it sit for a few minutes in order to kill all germs or bacteria before you wipe it away," advises McAllister. "Ethanol is effective in [destroying] bacteria and viruses—and this is why it is absolutely the most common sanitizing product of 2020. We all use it multiple times a day when we reach for hand sanitizer."

Quaternary Ammonium Compound (QUAT)

These strong disinfectant chemicals are commonly found in disinfectant wipes, sprays, and other well-known household cleaners. "Most QUAT-based sanitizers have a 'ten second kill,' which means it must be in contact with the surface for ten seconds to kill viruses or bacteria," explains McAllister. "While QUAT-based cleaners will not damage your clothing or carpets, they can irritate your skin, so wear gloves and always open the windows."

Hydrogen Peroxide

"Also known as non-chlorine bleach, and the main ingredient in many 'oxy' products, hydrogen peroxide is a good alternative for disinfecting and cleaning," says Christine Dimmick, the founder of The Good Home Co. and host of the podcast Be The Change. "A three-percent solution bottle at the drugstore can be used as a spray on all areas in the home—even a cutting board—to remove stains."

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