How do you choose a disinfectant?

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office health and safety

A quick Google search of “how do you choose a disinfectant?” reveals a ton of potential questions you should be asking:

Does the disinfectant kill the specific pathogens you’re concerned about?

Does the disinfectant cause damage to the surfaces you’re working with?

Does the disinfectant pose any risks or irritations to staff or guests?

Unfortunately, asking questions is where most of the top content stops. Finding answers is another challenge entirely, and one that’s left to the reader to sort out. There are many dense, highly scientific papers that can help, but it’s not easy to get the information out of them.

To make things easier, we combed through the CDC’s summaries of several powerful disinfectants. We’ve used their data to analyze five of the most common active ingredients mentioned on the EPA List N, which covers every commercially available disinfectant that’s approved to kill COVID-19.

And now, we’re bringing our answers to you. Because it shouldn’t take all day just to figure out which disinfectant is right for your operation.

Quaternary ammonium

How does it work? By destroying various parts of the pathogen cells, including essential proteins and cell membranes.

What types of pathogens does it kill? Fungi, bacteria, enveloped viruses (including COVID-19)

Key characteristics:

  • Widely used in environmental sanitation of floors, furniture, walls, etc.
  • Non-corrosive.
  • 1-year shelf life.

Hydrogen peroxide

How does it work? By destroying various parts of the pathogen cells, including cell membranes and cell DNA.

What types of pathogens does it kill? Fungi, bacteria, bacterial spores, viruses

Key characteristics:

  • Must be stored in dark containers at cool temperatures to prevent break down.
  • High concentrations can cause burns to skin, eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Low concentrations may cause skin irritation.
  • Effective for spot-disinfecting fabrics.
  • Can be corrosive to metal.

Alcohols: Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) and Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)

How does it work? By destroying pathogen cell proteins.

What types of pathogens does it kill? Fungi, bacteria, viruses

Key characteristics:

  • Optimal concentration is between 60% and 90%.
  • Considered ineffective below 50% concentration.
  • Corrosive to shellacs, rubbers, plastics and glues.
  • Cannot be used in electrostatic sprayers.
  • Rapid evaporation makes extended exposure times difficult without full submersion.

Sodium hypochlorite: Bleach

How does it work? The exact mechanism by which chlorine attacks microorganisms is unclear.

What types of pathogens does it kill? Fungi, bacteria, bacterial spores, viruses.

Key characteristics:

  • No toxic residue.
  • Discolors fabrics.
  • Releases toxic chlorine gas when mixed with ammonia or acid.
  • Household concentrations (approximately 5.25% to 6.15%) can cause irritation and burns to mucus membranes, esophagus and stomach.


How does it work? By disrupting cell walls and damaging cell proteins with protoplasmic poison.

What types of pathogens does it kill? Fungi, bacteria, viruses.

Key characteristics:

  • Commonly used on bedrails, bedside tables, and other non-critical surfaces in medical settings.
  • Easily absorbed by porous materials. Residues can cause irritation.
  • Reported to cause health problems in infants when used to clean bassinets and nursery surfaces.

EnviroPro solutions and quaternary ammonium

If you’re looking to use an electrostatic sprayer for your disinfectant chemicals, EnviroPro Solutions can help. We carry several different quaternary ammonium–based disinfectants, favored due to their non-corrosivity and lack of fumes. They can be bought as one-time purchases, or as monthly subscriptions to deliver the chemicals you need, where and when you need them.

If you have any questions about the disinfectants and tools we carry, please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected] or by phone at 1-763-296-4449.