The Best Disinfectant Sprays, Cleaners, and Wipes for the Whole Home
Eliminate bacteria and germs on high-touch surfaces in a variety of living spaces with one of these top-rated products.
Harmful bacteria can multiply in the home at an alarming rate, which may place family members at a higher risk of illness or infection. That’s why it’s important to understand how disinfectants play a vital role in the ongoing effort to keep our homes clean and germ-free. Unlike other household cleaners designed to remove grime, grease, and stains, disinfectants destroy disease-carrying pathogens (the germs that can make you sick) on site.
Disinfectant products are available as sprays for treating large areas; liquids that can be diluted or applied directly to surfaces (via sponges, mops, and brushes); and convenient wipes for on-the-go applications. Keep reading to find out how to select the best disinfectant products, as well as why we’ve chosen the following five as ideal products for a variety of areas throughout the whole home.
- BEST MULTI-SURFACE DISINFECTANT: Windex Disinfectant Multi-Surface Cleaner
- BEST CONCENTRATED LIQUID DISINFECTANT: Mediclean Germicidal Cleaner
- BEST FOR HARD AND SOFT SURFACES: Lysol Disinfectant Spray
- BEST DISINFECTING WIPES: Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
- BEST BATHROOM DISINFECTANT SPRAY: Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner + Bleach
Choosing the Best Disinfectant Product
Whether sanitizing after an illness or keeping certain bacteria at bay, it’s important to take note of active ingredients, EPA Registration Numbers, and desired applications in order to select the best disinfectant cleaners for your home.
In order to qualify as a disinfectant, a product must contain ingredients that have been tested in labs and shown to kill various types of viruses, such as bacteria, fungi, and parasites. While the active ingredient listed on a product’s label may be long and difficult to pronounce, it is derived from one (or a combination of) the following CDC-approved disinfectant ingredients. The first three active ingredients on the list—alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorine—are household products that can be used individually as disinfectants and are also found in commercial disinfectants.
Please note: Disinfectants can be toxic if misused, so follow product directions carefully.
- Alcohol: In concentrations over 70 percent, alcohol is effective at killing viruses but not bacteria. It can be found in various disinfecting products, including liquids, sprays, and wipes. For alcohol to successfully disinfect, the product should be applied and the surface allowed to remain wet for 30 seconds. In other words, don’t apply and then immediately wipe it dry—wait for at least 30 seconds. Use alcohol for disinfecting surfaces when known viruses are going around, but opt for one of the other products if you’re disinfecting against the spread of bacteria, such as sanitizing during an outbreak of salmonella (a food-borne bacteria), or staphylococcus, a bacteria that can lead to skin and organ infections.
- Hydrogen peroxide: This time-tested ingredient is often found in disinfectant products that are intended for use on hard, non-porous surfaces, and it can be found in sprays and liquids. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used right out of the bottle by applying it to hard, non-porous surfaces and allowing it to remain on for one minute before wiping dry.
- Chlorine and chlorine products: In the form of sodium chloride, good old household bleach has been a standby for decades in cleaning and disinfecting. When sanitizing your home to destroy bacteria and viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend diluting household bleach at the rate of 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water for use as a disinfectant on hard surfaces. This solution can be used in a sprayer or can be sponged on a hard, non-porous surface, and should be allowed to remain on the surface for five minutes before wiping off. Chlorine in other forms, such as benzalkonium chloride, is also found in disinfectant products combined with other ingredients. However, do not mix household bleach with any other type of cleaner because there’s a possibility it could result in toxic fumes.
- Formaldehyde: A water-based form of formaldehyde, called “formalin,” is commonly used to sterilize and disinfect industrial settings, including hospitals as it kills both viruses and bacteria. While formaldehyde effectively destroys pathogens, its fumes are considered toxic and it should only be used as directed on the label.
- Glutaraldehydes: Similar to formaldehyde, glutaraldehydes kill viruses and bacteria on hard non-porous surfaces. Products containing these ingredients can be purchased as concentrated liquids, intended for use in sprayers.
- Phenols: Another industrial product, phenolic disinfectants will kill bacteria and viruses on hard, non-porous surfaces. This active ingredient can be found in liquid form for diluting with water and applying directly to floors (mopping), countertops, and other hard surfaces.
EPA Registration Number
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a Registered Disinfectant List for antimicrobial products that kill specific types of pathogens, such as the Avian flu or Ebola virus. All products that claim to kill germs must bear EPA Registration Numbers on their labels. The most recent list is for disinfectants for use against SARS-COV-2, which according to the EPA is the “novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.”
Different products may bear the same number, and this just means that they have the same active ingredients. For example, hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in Ecolab’s Peroxide Disinfectant and Glass Cleaner RTU, and it has been given the EPA registration number 1677-251. If you find a product with the same registration number, although the name may be different, it will contain the same active ingredients as the Ecolab product. To find out all products registered under a specific number, you can search the EPA Registration database by number, product name, company name, or chemical name.
- Aerosol can: This type of product delivers a fine mist of spray that covers a large area to disinfect hard surfaces, such as showers and countertops or—depending on the ingredients—clothing, draperies, and upholstery.
- Spray bottle: Many disinfectants come in spray bottles, where the product is dispensed through a trigger action. There is also the option to purchase empty spray bottles and fill them with diluted cleaners or homemade disinfectants (such as the bleach solution mentioned above). Cleaners in spray bottles are generally intended for use on hard non-porous surfaces.
- Wipes: Intended for quick cleaning, wipes come pre-moistened in a container and can be removed one at a time for wiping down faucets, door handles, and other frequently touched objects.
- Liquid: Liquid applications may be used directly out of the bottle or jug, or may come in a concentrated form that requires dilution with water before use. While most liquids can be used to fill spray bottles, some are intended to be sponged on a surface. To understand when and how to apply the liquid, be sure to read and follow directions carefully.
Our Top Picks
Editor’s note: Prepping pantries and cleaning caddies for COVID-19 has caused aerosol disinfectant purchases in the first week of March 2020 to increase 385.3 percent from the year prior, NPR reports, and other household cleaners are seeing similar spikes. As a result, online retailers are finding it difficult to keep these products stocked. Note that some with brick and mortar stores that are still open have products available in stores only. To aid your search, we’ve included links to a couple of retailers per recommendation so that you can check multiple sellers to see which has restocked soonest and locate local options if possible.
1. BEST MULTI-SURFACE DISINFECTANT: Windex Disinfectant Multi-Surface Cleaner
Available in a trigger-spray bottle, Windex Disinfectant Multi-Surface Cleaner works great for disinfecting hard bathroom and kitchen surfaces, as well as kitchen table tops. Spray liberally on hard, non-porous surfaces, let stand for 10 minutes, and then wipe dry with clean paper towels. This disinfectant is also designed to clean away spills and hard water spots and leave a streak-free shine, making it suitable for cleaning and disinfecting windows. The product’s EPA Registration Number is 70627-76, and Amazon buyers love the fact that it leaves a polished look, claiming it keeps acrylic tubs looking “spotless and shiny,” and saying “it’s great for cleaning mirrors.” Available from Amazon and Lowes.
2. BEST FOR HARD AND SOFT SURFACES: Lysol Disinfectant Spray
For disinfecting hard surfaces, such as cabinets, and soft surfaces, such as upholstery, consider Lysol Disinfectant Spray. The aerosol emits a fine mist that coats surface areas and absorbs into the fabric to kill germs beneath the surface. No wiping or rinsing is necessary—just let both hard and soft surfaces air dry. The disinfectant bears the EPA Registration Number 777-99, and Amazon buyers call it a “great anti-bacterial spray” as well as a good “odor eliminator.” Available from Amazon and Lowes.
3. BEST DISINFECTING WIPES: Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
If you’re looking for the convenience of wipes, look no further than Clorox Disinfecting Wipes that are suitable for cleaning high-touch surfaces, such as drawer pulls and doorknobs. Keep a canister of wipes in every room for quick disinfecting. While Clorox is the manufacturer, the wipes do not contain bleach so they may be used safely on multicolor hard surfaces, such as painted toy chests. Amazon buyers love the convenience of Clorox wipes, claiming they’re great for wiping off “just about anything,” including “baseboards” and “paneling.” The wipes’ EPA Registration Number is 5813-79, and they’re available from Amazon and Walmart.
4. BEST BATHROOM DISINFECTANT SPRAY: Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner + Bleach
For cleaning and disinfecting tubs, shower, sinks, and toilets, check out Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner + Bleach. It removes stains, disinfects, and leaves a sparkling clean finish. Because it contains bleach, the spray should only be used on color-safe, non-porous surfaces, such as tile, porcelain, and acrylic. Spray surfaces liberally and leave on for five minutes before wiping with clean paper towels. Amazon buyers love cleaning and disinfecting in one step, calling it the “best cleaning product for items that can be cleaned with bleach” and saying it “does a wonderful job of removing stains.” Its EPA Registration Number is 5813-21, and it’s available from Amazon and Walmart.
5. BEST CONCENTRATED LIQUID DISINFECTANT: Mediclean Germicidal Cleaner
For large disinfecting jobs, you’ll love Mediclean Germicidal Cleaner that can be mixed with water and used in a spray bottle or as a pour-on liquid for mopping tile and linoleum floors. The dilution rate is 2 ounces of Mediclean to 1 gallon of water, and the product should only be used on hard, non-porous surfaces. While no rinsing is required on floors or other surfaces, the product should be left on for two minutes before wiping with clean paper towels. Amazon buyers like the idea of mixing their own disinfectant and claim Mediclean not only disinfects but also “smells great” and is great for “general cleaning” around the house. The product’s EPA Registered Number is 70385-6, and it’s available from both Amazon and Walmart.