Sanitizers: fact and myth

With the Coronavirus panic setting in, I’ve been asked by a friend to write about sanitizers and what is required for an effective one (for Coronavirus)

First, keep in mind that Coronavirus is a virus, and it will not be harmed by antibacterials. This means antibacterial soap is no more effective than ordinary soap.

Second, while some plant oils (thyme oil, tea tree oil, clove oil) have antibacterial properties, this doesn’t mean they’ll work on a virus. Unless you find a published research study with tables on virus reduction using an essential oil (and not published in J. Naturopathic Remedies or something similarly fishy), don’t substitute your favorite essential oil for an actual sanitizer.

Third, soap and water is the best bet for cleaning your hands, not alcohol-based hand sanitizers, but if you don’t have access to it or want to clean other surfaces, you can use any of the following types of sanitizers:

  • Bleach: 10% bleach (10ml bleach/90ml water, for example) is highly effective against both bacteria and viruses such as the Coronavirus. Unfortunately, it also is corrosive and will discolor clothes, so be careful what you use it on. But if you or someone in your family is sick, using bleach on doorknobs and bathroom/kitchen fixtures (especially handles) is a good way to prevent the spread of the illness throughout the household. It has the added benefit of working on not only Coronavirus, but also Norovirus (stomach flu), regular flu, and bacteria.
  • Alcohol-based sanitizers: To be effective, these need to be 60-70% alcohol. Less, and they don’t effectively kill viruses. Using 100% alcohol isn’t super effective, either, as it evaporates too quickly to kill the virus. A lot of people wonder about using Vodka or other strong liquors. If you’re trying to do that, you’ll need at least a 120 proof alcohol beverage, as 120 proof = 60%. 130 or 140 proof would be better (65-70% alcohol). Obviously, that concentration of alcohol isn’t cheap, so it’s not ideal as a cleaning aid.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs): includes lysol, pine sol, and other sanitizers with active ingredients such as benzalkonium chloride, alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, etc. These need to be left on a surface for a bit longer than bleach or alcohol, so don’t spray and immediately wipe. They can also cause skin irritation, so don’t use directly on your skin.

Whichever of these sanitizers you use, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions for concentration and contact time (how long you let it sit before wiping off), or it’s unlikely to be effective.

Finally, be safe, and don’t panic.

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