9 Natural Alternatives To Bleach For Disinfecting
By Marilee Nelson |
Chlorine bleach, also known as sodium hypochlorite, has been the go-to disinfectant for homes, hospitals, and businesses for years.
However, new research has shed disturbing light on the harmful effects of using bleach, with even passive exposure linked to concerning health outcomes, environmental problems, and the spread of superbugs.
This has led health-conscious consumers to seek natural alternatives to bleach for disinfecting, cleaning, and laundry.
However, much incorrect or partially correct information is circulating about natural bleach alternatives for disinfecting.
So if you’re confused or have become discouraged in your efforts to replace bleach, you’re in the right place.
Read on to discover nine effective natural alternatives to bleach for disinfecting that removes l germs without harming your health.
How Strong Does a Disinfectant Need to be to Kill Germs and Bacteria?
This is such an important question to ask and understand when seeking natural alternatives to bleach for disinfecting and/or sanitizing.
Sanitizers and disinfectants work by killing germs, bacteria, and viruses on surfaces.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a sanitizer or disinfectant must contain an EPA-registered pesticide or at least 70% alcohol to be considered a sanitizer or disinfectant.
Obviously, most of us want to avoid using EPA-registered chemical pesticides in our homes. Yet, that’s precisely what chlorine bleach is; a chemical pesticide.
So, what about alcohol?
Although an alcohol-based sanitizer is preferable to chlorine bleach health and environmental-wise, it is still not ideal.
Like chlorine bleach, alcohol-based sanitizers are lung irritants, can cause liver problems, and also contribute to the proliferation of superbugs.
If I had only two choices to clean with alcohol or bleach, I’d choose alcohol.
However, there are safer alternatives to both coming up.
Is Bleach Effective in Killing Germs?
Yes, bleach is very effective at killing germs, but not entirely, which is why it has contributed to the spread of bacteria-resistant germs, aka superbugs.
Here’s how this works.
Research has shown sanitizers and disinfectants typically leave behind some germs, which is why you don’t see companies claiming their products can kill 100% of germs. These survivor germs then morph and adapt into resistant superbugs.
Plus, disinfectants and sanitizers, like bleach, don’t necessarily kill all germs on contact; many require dwell time (which makes one question the effectiveness of disinfectant wipes, for example).
In addition, use of and passive exposure to bleach has been linked to various disturbing health outcomes, including:
- Severe skin, eye, and lung burns due to the chloramine gas created when bleach is combined with other chemicals or organic matter.
- Increased rate of miscarriage and preterm birth.
- DNA damage, cancer, asthma, respiratory problems, headaches, and a host of other illnesses.
- Impaired immunity due to microbiome disruption.
- Water treated with sodium hypochlorite (and its cousins) has been shown to release chloroform gas when mixed with organic matter, such as urine or dirt. When you shower this is a problem because the chlorine mixes with your organic matter (the stuff you’re washing off), then the steam intensifies that gas exposure. A Taiwanese study showed an increased risk of cancer in those who showered in highly chlorinated water.
- Passive exposure can cause an increased risk of respiratory illness and other illnesses in children.
Although bleach does kill surface mold, it doesn’t kill mold beneath the surface and introduces water to the area, allowing mold to thrive.
So, is bleach effective in killing germs? Yes.
However, like antibiotics, it acts like a nuke, killing all harmful and beneficial germs in its path while creating superbugs and health/environmental problems in the process.
Fortunately, you don’t need bleach or other EPA-registered disinfectants or sanitizers to kill and remove germs. There are plenty of non-toxic options, which we’ll discuss coming up.
Sanitizer vs. Disinfectant: What's the Difference?
Sanitizers are chemicals designed to kill bacteria, but not viruses, on surfaces.
Disinfectants are chemicals that kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces.
Then you have cleaners, which are designed to remove germs from surfaces versus killing them.
There is a time and a place for cleaning and sanitizing or disinfecting, which we’ll discuss more coming up.
9 Natural Alternatives to Chlorine Bleach for Disinfecting
Now that you’re caught up on how bleach works, its dangers, and why it’s wise to seek alternatives, let’s dive into non-toxic options for disinfecting.
The goal with non-toxic disinfecting is first to remove germs using a natural soap-based cleaner or other non-toxic cleaner, then proceed to sanitizing/disinfecting using a non-toxic option.
This one-two punch gives you the very best chance of eliminating all germs, bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens without leaving anything behind to morph or make you sick.
So, here’s the approach:
- Remove germs versus killing them using a natural soap-based cleaner. Which research has shown are very effective at removing all germs, and even viruses, without leaving germs behind. This removal eliminates the problem of the creation of superbugs and is why proper cleaning is so important!.
- Avoid chemical-based, EPA-registered disinfectants all the time. Which, as you’ve just learned, can leave behind superbugs and are highly toxic to people and the environment.
- Use natural disinfectants and sanitizers sparingly on frequently used surfaces only after first removing germs with soap. The use of natural disinfectants and sanitizer following the removal of germs, creates an extra layer of protection from the possibility of left-over germs or harmful bacteria and pathogens.
Now let’s look at nine of the best natural alternatives to bleach for disinfecting.
1. Branch Basics
Branch Basics Concentrate was designed to replace all cleaners and laundry products in the home with one Concentrate.
However, this soap-based cleaner is not a sanitizer or disinfectant.
So why, you may ask, is it on this list?
We recommend Branch Basics Concentrate, which is used to make All-Purpose, Bathroom, Laundry, Streak-Free, and Foaming Wash, as a germ remover; which is the first step in any non-toxic sanitizing or disinfecting process.
So, before applying a disinfectant to frequently used surfaces, toys, pacifiers, door handles, toilets, etc., spray down with Branch Basics and wipe using a split microfiber cloth to remove germs and viruses.
From there, you’d apply your non-toxic disinfectant of choice to kill any remaining germs.
Learn more in, Does Branch Basics Kill Germs?
2. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is very similar to water (H2o) in its composition, except it has an extra oxygen molecule (H2O2).
This extra oxygen molecule allows it to oxidize and kill germs, making it an excellent disinfectant for surfaces, sinks, tubs, and more.
And since it breaks down into oxygen and water, it is considered non-toxic and eco-friendly.
Hydrogen peroxide available over-the-counter (in the brown bottle) is a 3% concentration, which is strong enough to kill viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens per the Centers for Disease Control.
Plus, a 2018 study showed 3% hydrogen peroxide was more effective at killing some germs and viruses than Quat-containing disinfectants, like Lysol (Quats are a highly toxic chemical used in disinfectants).
For ease of use, we recommend attaching a trigger sprayer directly to the bottle.
Hydrogen peroxide also makes an excellent bleach alternative for cleaning and laundry and can be used with distilled white vinegar (stored in separate bottles) for even more disinfecting power. We’ll tell you how to use these two together safely coming up.
Simple, inexpensive, and easy to find, distilled white vinegar is a wonderful natural cleaner with some sanitizing power.
Research has shown vinegar contains natural acetic acid, which can dissolve dirt, grime and kill certain germs, including:
- E. Coli
- Listeria monocytogenes
It is an excellent choice for the kitchen, where germs like E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria may be hiding.
Keep in mind, vinegar will not kill all germs, and its sanitizing power will change based on dilution and dwell time.
For more complete sanitizing and disinfecting power, we typically use steam or vinegar with hydrogen peroxide (sprayed separately and stored in separate bottles).
4. Hydrogen Peroxide + Vinegar Stored In Separate Bottles
Hydrogen peroxide is a very effective disinfectant and distilled white vinegar is an excellent sanitizer.
Put them together, you create a powerful disinfectant combination that won’t pollute your home or the environment.
Here’s how to use hydrogen peroxide and vinegar safely to sanitize and disinfect.
- Cleaning the surface or object to remove germs with Branch Basics or another non-toxic cleaner.
- Spray a few sprays of vinegar or peroxide on the surface, and let the one product dwell for 5-10 minutes. Do not use them simultaneously, as this could create harmful fumes.
- Wipe thoroughly.
- Spray the other product on the same surface. Let dwell and wipe thoroughly.
Helpful tip: affix a spray nozzle directly to the bottles for ease of use.
Again, these products are only to be used separately (spray one first, wipe, then spray the other) and stored in separate bottles.
This combination is perfect for cutting boards, countertops, high chairs, pacifiers, toilets, toys, or any surface or item that may harbor harmful germs.
5. Boiling Water
Before disinfectant and sanitizing chemicals, people and medical professionals relied on boiling water to kill germs.
But does it truly work? Yes.
According to the EPA, boiling water will kill bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.
However, water must be boiling temperature or close to it, approximately 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and it must stay in contact with the object for at least three minutes to be most effective.
This makes boiling water a good sanitizing and disinfecting agent for heat-resistant objects.
However, it is not recommended for surfaces (which cannot be submerged) or anything that may melt or become damaged when exposed to 212-degree temperature water.
6. Oxygen-Based Bleach aka: Sodium Percarbonate (Branch Basics Oxygen Boost)
Sodium percarbonate, also known as “powdered peroxide” or “oxygen bleach,” is a non-toxic antibacterial, antifungal, anti-algae, anti-mold, and deodorizing powder rated 1-2 for “low toxicity” on the Environmental Working Group database.
Sodium percarbonate is considered non-toxic to humans and the environment because it decomposes into biodegradable sodium (Na+), carbonate—a type of salt (CO32-), and peroxide—which, as discussed previously, is water and oxygen.
It is so human and environmentally safe; it’s one of the only disinfectants approved for use in organic aquaculture production.
Sodium percarbonate’s disinfectant, bleaching, and non-toxic properties are why it’s included in our best-selling Oxygen Boost.
However, sodium percarbonate and Oxygen Boost are powders which require warm to hot water to activate their disinfectant properties.
Therefore, they are not designed to be used as surface disinfectants.
However, you can use them with a non-toxic surfactant-containing product that removes germs, such as Branch Basics All-Purpose or Bathroom for gentle disinfecting.
7. Dry Steam Cleaners
Dry vapor steam cleaners do not get enough credit in the non-toxic cleaning space!
These handheld devices use superheated low moisture steam for disinfecting, sanitizing, and cleaning surfaces without any chemicals, fumes, or waste.
We highly recommend the Ladybug Dry Steam Cleaner, a unique product for the following reasons:
- The Ladybug qualifies as a disinfection device* for the EPA. It disinfects virtually any hard surface (through proprietary TANCS® technology) thousands of times better than the standard that chemical disinfectants must meet to qualify as an EPA-registered disinfectant.
- Unlike chemical disinfectants that require dwell times where surfaces must remain visibly wet for minutes to kill germs, the Ladybug kills an extensive range of bacteria and viruses like MRSA, C. diff, norovirus, C. parvo, and COVID-19 in seven seconds or less while leaving no residue behind that promotes new microbial growth.
- It has been proven to eradicate hard-to-kill biofilms in three seconds. Strong chemical disinfectants such as bleach are no match.
Plus, mechanical disinfection with the Ladybug does not create superbugs.
There is no chance for a germ to mutate to the point that it can resist the natural heat of dry steam. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Previously, we mentioned alcohol isn’t our first choice for disinfecting because it has the potential to leave behind some germs.
However, vodka, is an exception and makes an excellent less-toxic disinfectant. Plus, vodka is a great natural deodorizer.
Alcohol qualifies as an EPA-registered disinfectant if it is 70% (140 proof) drinkable grain alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol.
- Fill a 16 oz glass spray bottle with your chosen high-proof alcohol or vodka.
- After removing germs with Branch Basics or another non-toxic cleaner, use the vodka “neat” (straight vodka) to disinfect surfaces or other items.
- Let the vodka dry on the surface (dwell time) for optimal disinfecting.
Learn more in: 7 Non-Toxic Air Fresheners That Remove Odors Naturally
9: Traditional Steam Cleaners
Hand-held steam cleaners or steam mops are another way to use the power of heat to disinfect.
Steam cleaners will kill many viruses and bacteria, but the steam needs to be between 175 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit with at least three minutes of sustained contact.
You can find steam mops and hand-held steam cleaners from various vendors.
Here are some tips for finding a high-quality steam cleaner and extending its life:
- Always use distilled water. Hard water can clog and ruin the steamer, which are almost impossible to fix.
- Keep out of reach of children! Steam cleaners are fascinating to most children but can cause severe burns, so use and store them with caution.
- Read reviews carefully when selecting a steam cleaner. Typically, it’s worth paying a little more for a model that will last longer.
Steam cleaners also work well with Branch Basics or the other non-toxic cleaners listed here.
Toss the Toxins With Branch Basics
Isn’t it freeing, and ironic, to know you can clean, sanitize, and disinfect your home without compromising your health?
Just remember the formula:
- Remove germs using a natural, soap-based cleaner first.
- If disinfecting is desired or required, follow up with one of the natural disinfectants listed above.
Unsure if you should disinfect or sanitize?
We typically reserve disinfecting and sanitizing for areas and items that may harbor harmful germs, such as cutting boards, kitchen sinks, toilets, any area or surface a sick person has touched, baby items, or pet spaces.
The majority of the time, we stick with removing germs using Branch Basics or another natural cleaner.
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.