Disinfectants made from everyday kitchen ingredients provide nontoxic and inexpensive alternatives to harsh chemical products. Many commercial disinfectants include formaldehyde and other toxic chemical ingredients that release gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds can cause short- and long-term health problems. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs can cause nose, throat, skin and eye irritation, headaches, nausea, loss of coordination, cancer and damage to the kidneys, liver and central nervous system(see References 1). To kill germs without using chemical products, disinfect with vinegar and hot water vapor in a steam cleaner. (See References 2, 3 and 4)
Items you will need:
- Distilled white vinegar
- Hot water
- Spray bottle
- Steam cleaner
Pour a mixture of equal parts white distilled vinegar and hot water into a spray bottle of your choosing. Vinegar is a strong acid that kills most germs.
Spray the vinegar solution onto the affected area to kill germs left by common household contaminants such as pet accidents, vomit or raw food. According to a study conducted by the University of Florida in 2003, when sprayed on strawberries contaminated with E. coli and other germs, a 10-percent vinegar solution reduced bacteria by 90 percent and viruses by 95 percent (see References 5).
Allow the surface to dry. The vinegar smell disappears once the area fully dries.
Fill the steam cleaner's reservoir with plain hot water or a mixture of equal parts hot water and distilled white vinegar. Steam cleaners can sterilize surfaces using plain tap water, but if you're concerned about a particularly soiled surface, add the vinegar.
Plug in the steam cleaner and allow the water to heat up until the cleaner signals to continue. This step is different for each brand of steam cleaner. Operate the steam cleaner as directed by the manufacturer's instructions.
Direct the steam cleaner at the infected surface to kill germs using heated and pressurized water vapor. For materials able to handle high temperatures, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends steam sterilization due to its reliability, consistency and effectiveness in killing germs and other pathogens (see References 6). As they use only water to disinfect, steam cleaners release no toxic chemicals into the home and environment.
Turn off and unplug the steam cleaner. Allow the surface to dry. For large surfaces, thick fabrics and carpet, provide adequate ventilation to facilitate quicker drying and prevent mold growth.
- When using vinegar as a disinfectant, dilute it with water to avoid damaging the surfaces and materials being cleaned. As a strong acid, vinegar can dissolve mineral deposits and fibers, and should not be used on all surfaces. Test a small area of the surface in an inconspicuous spot first, to check for possible discoloration of the material. (See References 4)
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like all sterilization processes, steam cleaning has some negative effects on materials over time, such as corrosion (see References 6).
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Volatile Organic Compounds
- CDC: Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities 2008 --- Formaldehyde
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Formaldehyde
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Using Environmentally Preferable Cleaners
- Journal of Food Protection; Reduction of Poliovirus 1, Bacteriophages....; J Lukasik, et al; February 2003
- CDC: Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities 2008 --- Sterilization
Ann Salter began writing professionally in 2010 and has worked extensively in the fields of art, architecture and design since 2004. Her work has appeared in informative guides on student housing cooperatives and sustainable building alternatives. Other areas of specialty include technology, health, gardening and cooking. Salter holds a Bachelor of Architectural Studies from the University of Waterloo.