Five Safer, Green Ways to Kill Germs

October 2009
With fears of Swine Flu (H1N1 Flu) running rampant, most people are looking into how to kill germs.  What to use that is safe and healthy but will work?
In the United States, a product can be labeled and advertised as a disinfectant, antibacterial or antimicrobial agent only after it has been registered as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Many of these products are made with chemicals that can cause the same problem as overuse of antibiotics — superbug overgrowth — according to Tufts University School of Medicine. Using products that contribute to superbug overgrowth is especially dangerous in places filled with children, sick people, and the elderly. We’re all aware of the issues involved in drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals and nursing facilities. But “superbugs”—viruses and bacteria that have mutated their way around our chemical arsenals—are not good to have growing in our homes, either!
Disinfectants have been linked to other health problems as well: one study highlights concerns that nurses regularly exposed to cleaning products and disinfectants shared a significantly increased occurrence of asthma. And some antimicrobial agents — such as triclosan, commonly used in products like antibacterial hand soaps — are suspected endocrine disrupters and immunotoxins. Triclosan is known to be very long lasting in the environment and was found in every Florida dolphin tested for it.
Those who run hospitals, daycare centers, and nursing or assisted living homes feel they must use a registered disinfectant that ensures a 100-percent pathogen kill rate, which is understandable. But, many consumers feel the same way—believing they need to kill all the germs, viruses and bacteria on our household surfaces. Everyone should know that it isn’t possible to sterilize one’s home.
Most importantly, it isn’t necessary to use toxic chemicals when you want to kill germs.
Check the labels of the cleaning and toiletry products in your home. You’d be amazed at how many places you’ll find registered antimicrobial ingredients — way beyond antibacterial soaps and disinfectant sprays. Even some tooth pastes contain antimicrobial agents such as triclosan.
We share our worlds—home, work, school, and everywhere else—with all sorts of visible and invisible creatures. There are ways to protect ourselves and those we love from the “creatures” that tend to make us sick without undermining our long-term health, or the health of our environment
Safe Ways to Kill Germs
1.      Soap, Essential Oils, Natural Remedies, Immune Boosting
The EPA recommends just soap and water to kill germs, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends frequent hand washing. The key is that most bar soap, or liquid soaps in public bathrooms and such, are not “soap” at all, but detergents that are configured to be like a soap, and usually with the antibacterial agent triclosan added. You need to wash your hands with real soap. Using natural alcohol-based hand sanitizers is another way to go if you can’t wash your hands, according to the Mayo Clinic.
2.      Detergent or Soap?
Real soap is alkaline, whereas detergents are usually closer to neutral. Just as vinegar kills germs because it is so acidic, soap kills germs because it is so alkaline.
How can you tell the difference between a soap and detergent? For liquids, a real soap’s ingredient label will say something like “saponified coconut, olive, (other) oils—or—plant-based soap. By contrast, a liquid detergent will use the word “surfactant,” and usually will be presented as “anionic and/or non-ionic surfactants,” and while “biodegradeable” may be on the label, don’t confuse that to mean natural.
For bar soap, a real soap will be made of similar ingredients and a homemade bar will be rich in natural glycerin. You can further identify homemade bar soaps by the fact that they are usually hand cut into squares. More industrially made soap bars can also be real soap; read labels: the word “castile,” such as in “olive oil castile soap,” is a good indicator that the bar is real soap.
Understand Disinfectant Dwell Time
The key to understanding disinfectant ads and claims, is that if a product requires 30 seconds to kill a particular microorganism and 10 minutes to kill another, the product is in effect a 10-minute disinfectant.  This means that no matter which targeted microorganism is on the label, and irrespective of its individual kill time, the product must remain on the surface, wet, for a full 10 minutes to be effective.  The longest required kill time listed on the U.S. EPA registered label indicates the minimum amount of time the disinfectant must be in contact with the surface or instrument to be effective, thus making all other claim times on the product label or advertisements irrelevant.  --J. Wagner,  November 2003; Micro-Scientific Industries
3.      Dry Vapor Steam
Steam cleaners disinfect by using only water to dry steam at levels of 240°F and above. While expensive, they are chemical free. My sponsor, Maid Brigade, has introduced a special, patented dry steam vapor machine to its Green Clean Certified® house cleaning system at participating locations. Their new VapurClean Advantage™ service includes this patented technology, in which heat crystallizes the minerals in normal tap water that help the dry steam vapor break through an organism’s cell walls and destroy the nucleus. The chemical-free, low-moisture heat is safe for all surfaces in your home AND safe for your family yet the technology is proven to be lethal to mold, mildew, dust mites and germs including MRSA, salmonella, type-A influenzas including H1N1, and staph among others. The dry steam vapor also has the ability to penetrate the microscopic pores in every surface and disinfect inside these pores, where even the strongest topical cleaners cannot reach. The patented technology qualifies Maid Brigade’s dry steam vapor equipment as an EPA-registered disinfection device.
4.      UV SterilizingTool
For an all-purpose sterilizing method that uses no chemicals yet has a 99.9 percent kill rate, consider UV sterilizing “wands.” They kill not only viruses, bacteria, and mold, but also dust mites and bed bugs.
5.      Essential Oils
New research is proving that the old folk recipes using herbs and essential oils to kill germs-- such as those used by 14th century doctors during the Black Plague--were based on good science. Many essential oils, such as the oils of oregano, lavender, and thyme, are more antiseptic than phenol, the industry standard. Research is also showing that antibacterial plant oils may not cause drug resistance, as seems to be the case with some common chemical disinfectants.
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