Sanitizers vs. disinfectants: Expert explains the difference, and how you should be using them

Cleaning products like sanitizers and disinfectants have become a part of people's daily lives since the coronavirus pandemic hit, but with so many products on the shelves, you may be wondering what the difference is. According to Keri Lestage, Ph.D., the COO of Byoplanet, a chemical deliveries manufacturer, the main distinction is in "how well it actually kills germs off the surface."

Lestage said the confusion is understandable because the terms are often used interchangeably.

Popular TV ads for cleaning products that claim they kill 99.99% of germs usually refer to disinfectants, Lestage told CBSN anchors Vladimir Duthiers and Anne-Marie Green. Sanitizers, specifically antiseptics like hand sanitizer and any products that contain peroxides and alcohol, are generally "geared for using on your skin." 

She recommended cleaning "high-touch surfaces" such as doorknobs and countertops with disinfectants.

Using Clorox wipes as an example, Lestage said the most effective way to use them is to wipe the surface so that it remains wet for the duration of the product's "dwell time," which can be found on the back of packaging. "Dwell time" refers to the amount of time the surface must remain wet "to achieve full disinfection."

Daily use, "at the minimum," is also crucial, according to the Lestage. 

"Any time that you can think about, you know, walking through those doors or touching those high-touch surfaces a couple of times a day, take out a wipe and just wipe everything down," she said. "It's a really good practice to do, especially these days."

The EPA has posted a list of disinfectants that are effective against the novel coronavirus, and Lestage recommends using them according to the instructions on the label.

"You can take a look on the back of those labels and you'll see an EPA registration number... it'll tell you exactly what germs it kills and how quickly. I think that's got to be the focus, and making sure that you are using the products that have been tested and have gone through the rigor of the EPA registration process is a really important piece of it," she said.

She advised that homemade cleaning solutions or products that tout a "natural" label but have not been EPA-tested are "not necessarily a safer option."

"You just don't want to make a mistake under these circumstances, especially if you're living with someone or yourself is a part of the vulnerable population," she said.

Lestage explained that the EPA-listed products have been tested and go through a rigorous registration process. For people who are worried about possible negative effects of these chemicals, she offered assurances that the companies that make them take consumer safety seriously.

"Given the rigor that these products need to go through and the scrutiny that they go through, I would feel very comfortable using these products in my home under any circumstances, but most certainly under these ones," she said.

Source: CBS News

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