Do Eco-Friendly Household Cleaners Kill Germs as Well as Bleach?

| by The Pediatric Insider

Shannon wanted to know, “How much do you know about these newer eco-friendly, non-toxic house cleaners? Do they actually actively kill germs or should I stick with my tried and true bleach infused chemical products? I would like to be a little more eco-friendly but which is safer for my family the ‘chemicals’ or the ones they may or may not kill the bathroom and kitchen germs?”

Before we get to the germ-killing part, I wanted to know if the eco-friendly products actually work. So we put it to the test, here at The Pediatric Insider Labs. With the help of my kids, we colored windows with crayons, and made handprints with ketchup and Hershey’s Syrup.

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Do not try this at home, at least not when your significant other is around.

Put to the test were a traditional blue window cleaner (“with ammonia,” it proudly proclaims) versus a clear bottle of Windex “Nature’s Source” glass cleaner. I also made a bottle of homemade “Dr. Roy’s Purple Window Cleaner” using 2 cups water + 3 TB cider vinegar + 1 drop dishwashing liquid + a few drops of purple food coloring (recipes like this are all over the internet, just google “eco friendly cleaning.”)

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The results were really quite impressive. All of my technical assistants agreed that the almost-all-natural, homemade “Dr Roy’s Purple” was the best at cleaning, and left the fewest streaks. The traditional blue stuff with ammonia was the worst of the three.

Looking at the labels, the ingredients of the eco-friendly and traditional window cleaners were very similar. Both started with water, followed by alcohol (though the eco-friendly product proclaimed that theirs had “purified water” and “corn-based ethanol” rather than the isopropanol in the traditional blue stuff.) The blue stuff has a little ammonia (which is itself a natural product from bacterial metabolism); the eco-friendly clear stuff has a smidge of “plant based cleaning agent,” which I suspect is a kind of detergent. That’s about it.

What about germ-killing? Traditional cleansers use bleach, which in an antiseptic concentration will kill just about any microorganism. It’s also very difficult for germs to become resistant to bleach. The stuff works, and it’s really very safe unless ingested at high concentrations or splashed directly into the eyes. Bleach breaks down quickly in the environment, too.

“Eco-friendly” cleaners seem to use somewhat different ingredients for germ-killing. Many rely on alcohols that can be made from plant materials like corn. Alcohols will work, though I don’t know any reason to think they’re safer poured down the drain than a little bleach. Much more concerning to me are some products that rely on chemical antibiotics like Triclosan, which may encourage the development of bacteria resistant to antibiotic medications.

The ingredients in the commercial eco-friendly versus traditional cleaning products don’t appear very different to me, and I’m not convinced that they’re really very much better for the environment. If you want to help the planet, make your own cleansers in reused bottles, using bleach for germ-killing. I found several web sites with simple recipes, and the one I tried as a window cleaner worked very well. As a bonus, you get to choose the color. Purple works best for chocolate stains on a window.