Greener disinfecting agents

First published January 2009, Updated February 2011

Store bought disinfectants used in cleaning can contain all sorts of nasty chemicals, some of which should really only be used in controlled settings such as hospitals.
The reason for this is when used around the home inappropriately, these substances can actually help bacteria become resistant to the chemical, creating “superbugs”.
The heavy duty disinfectant artillery should be left to health professionals as a last line of defense. As has been noted in the case of staph, the excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics has created super-strains which are now resistant to practically *all* antibiotics.
Some of the chemicals used in commercial preparations can also have a negative effect on aquatic life as water treatment facilities can’t filter them out.
A chemical of particular concern is triclosan. Used in everything from bar soaps to toothpaste, it can also be found in some commercial disinfectants. According to Beyond Pesticides, researchers who added triclosan to river water and shined ultra violet light on the water found that between one and twelve percent of the triclosan was converted to dioxins. Dioxins are incredibly toxic to aquatic organisms, animals and humans and as these substances are bioaccumulative, they work their way up the food chain.
In a U.S. Geological Survey study of 95 different organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, triclosan was one of the most frequently detected compounds.
This is a serious environmental issue that we can all play a role in helping to address – for starters, taking more care in the types of disinfectant we choose and use.
Greener disinfecting alternatives
It’s important to bear in mind that disinfecting something means killing something else; that the nature of the process is destructive – however, the goal is to minimize “collateral damage”.
While there are quite a few environmentally friendly (or should I say, friendlier) products on the market, making your own environmentally friendly disinfectant is very cheap and extremely quick to do using just eucalyptus oil and water.
Simply mix 1.6 oz (around 50 ml) of eucalyptus oil with a quart (litre) of water. That’s all there is to it – not everything that is effective needs to be complex.
Be sure to shake well before use and use as you would a store bought disinfectant. Also keep the mixture out of direct sunlight in a opaque container.
Not only will you have a greener disinfectant, but by making your own, you’re more likely to use the same container, therefore cutting down your plastic consumption.
Eucalyptus oil is amazing stuff and you’ll see it mentioned regularly throughout this site. I’ve read that European doctors used to use eucalyptus oil to disinfect and sterilize their equipment. Do be careful when handling eucalyptus oil as it’s quite potent and can cause skin irritation in its undiluted form.
Here’s another disinfectant recipe if you’re not particularly fond of the smell of eucalyptus:
Grapefruit Seed Extract Disinfectant Spray
1 gallon warm water
20 drops grapefruit seed extract
Mix and pour in a spray bottle
That’s it!
Some other earth friendly disinfecting agents:
Vinegar with a few drops of essential oil to mask the smell.
– 3% Hydrogen peroxide
– Grain alcohol mixed with 30% water to stop it from evaporating too quickly (or even cheap vodka – which has many other uses too)
If you have some earth friendly disinfectant tips you’d like to share; please add them below!