The best disinfecting cleaners

The world can be a germy place and as we interact with others, we share bacteria. Some bacteria are actually good for our body systems but other, viral strains like measles, flu, and colds can be dangerous. And, fungal infections like athlete’s foot, while not life-threatening, are pretty uncomfortable.

To help combat against them, there are products available that do a great job of killing bacteria. Disinfecting cleaners come in many forms and you are sure to find one that fits your needs. You may see the words “antibacterial,” “sanitizing,” or “disinfecting,” which are used interchangeably by many companies. But take time to look for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number that ensures the product has met EPA requirements for killing germs. If there is no number, you’re just wasting your time and money.

Key ingredients to also look for are pine oil, quaternary ammonium compounds, sodium hypochlorite, phenols, and ethanol. Different active ingredients kill different types of bacteria. A good disinfecting cleaner will list which bacteria, fungi, and viruses it is intended to kill.

With a young grandson, I’m particularly concerned about all the germs he brings home from school. So, I’ve been testing disinfectant cleaners on a regular basis. I’m not a microbiologist, so I rely on the EPA ratings about killing specific bacteria. But along with what I use in my own home, I’ve been testing products for decades as a home economist for companies and publications. I am giving you the disinfecting products that are the easiest to use, least damaging to surfaces, and the best value.

Read on in the slides below to discover our top picks to disinfect nearly every surface and fabric in your home.

Here are the best disinfecting cleaners:

Prices and links are current as of 3/2/2020. Due to fears of coronavirus, many of these products are quickly selling out or appearing at prices well above market retail. We’re doing our best to keep this guide updated with in-stock purchase links.

The best overall


Bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses are quite common. With Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Spray you can kill bacteria without needing to rinse counters to remove the cleaner.

Salmonella and E. coli are just two of the bacteria that are common in our food sources, among the many other germs on our hands that we risk bringing into the kitchen. While all of the EPA-registered disinfectants will kill those bacteria if used properly, they require an extra step of rinsing if used around food preparation areas. Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Spray eliminates that rinsing step.

With a rapid kill time of only 30 seconds, the product is also quick drying. With the designation of a Safer Choice Product by the EPA (registration number 84368-1-84150), it is safe to touch nearly instantly. Simply spray on a cutting board, baby’s crib railing, or pet’s chew toy and you can use it safely without rinsing.

While it doesn’t pretend to deep-clean surfaces, it is safe to use on plastics, metal, granite, sealed wood, and upholstery to kill germs, thanks to its patented ethyl alcohol technology. While it works perfectly to disinfect toys and every room in my home, I use it frequently on kitchen counters, door and cabinet hardware, and appliance handles and touchpads.

First introduced to the mass market in 2016, the product is offered in 32-ounce spray bottles and in a 1-gallon jug that can be used to refill spray containers. If you would prefer an unscented version, try Purell Professional Foodservice Surface Sanitizer.

Because it isn’t a general consumer product, it may be harder to find at your local store.

Pros: No rinsing needed, safe to use around food, kills 99.9% of bacteria, designated as an EPA Safer Choice product

Cons: Not readily available in all mass-market stores

The best for laundry


Bacteria can cling to fabrics for several hours after exposure and athlete’s foot fungus continues to multiply in our damp clothes hamper. If you are looking for one product that will sanitize your laundry and not damage your clothes, Lysol Laundry Sanitizer Additive is your best bet.

While most viruses and bacteria are transmitted during human-to-human contact, some can be transmitted from inanimate objects like clothes. Sanitizing laundry is particularly important if someone in your home is ill or has a compromised immune system. Healthcare workers and anyone working with young children should also take precautions, especially during any community healthcare crisis.

We’ve all heard that hot water kills germs. That’s not always true, and the water in our clothes washers doesn’t reach the necessary temperature anyway. Plus, many fabrics simply can’t stand up to hot water. What to do?

Chlorine bleach is an effective disinfectant but it can’t be used on colored clothes or on synthetic fabrics safely. It’s time for Lysol Laundry Sanitizer Additive (EPA registration number 777-128). This product contains a phenolic disinfectant that is safe to use in any water temperature, in both standard and high-efficiency machines, with any detergent, and on any washable fabric.

I simply add it to the rinse cycle and make sure that the cycle is set for at least 16 minutes. To be effective, the product and water must be in contact with the fabrics for a period of time, so be sure to follow the bottle directions carefully. The clothes come out feeling soft and lightly scented with the Lysol Crisp Linen fragrance.

I recommend it for any clothing worn close to the body, children’s clothes, and bed linens to protect against possible cross-contamination.

Pros: Comes in three fresh scents, easy-to-use, kills 99.9% of bacteria on fabric, no chlorine bleach

Cons: Those with sensitive skin may react to dyes or scents, but they do make a Free & Clear version

The best for nonwashable goods


Available in a dozen scents, Lysol Disinfectant Spray kills 99.9% of bacteria on fabrics and hard surfaces making it a clear top performer.

When a family member was sick with the flu or a cold, did he stay in bed or wander out to the couch, use the TV remotes, and head to the kitchen to grab a snack from the refrigerator? If it’s the latter, he probably left some bacteria for everyone else.

That’s why you need a good disinfecting spray like Lysol (EPA registration number 777-127). This is not just an air-freshener: It contains the ingredients necessary to kill bacteria and is safe to use on fabrics and hard surfaces.

The key to proper protection is to cover the surfaces with the mist and allow them to remain wet for 30-seconds or up to 10 minutes. The active ingredients in the spray need time to work. Drying times for a specific virus are listed on the container. If you are spraying surfaces that will be used for food preparation, they should be rinsed with clean water after the Lysol has dried. The same applies to toys that children might put in their mouths.

If Crisp Linen is not your thing, there are 11 other scents to choose from to protect your family.

Pros: Disinfects fabrics and hard surfaces, kills 99.9% of bacteria, available in a dozen fragrances

Cons: Not available in an unscented formula, surfaces used for food preparation and children’s toys must be rinsed with water before use

The best disinfecting wipes


While the main reason to use a disinfecting wipe is to kill germs, Clorox Ultra Clean Disinfecting Wipes also offer excellent cleaning capability.

Clorox knows a thing or two about killing germs and they made life much simpler when they introduced disinfecting wipes. The wipes offer a simple, less messy way to clean surfaces without needing liquids and cleaning tools.

While all of the Clorox wipes contain ingredients that kill 99.9% of the viruses and bacteria on hard surfaces, the Clorox Ultra Clean Disinfecting Wipes (EPA registration number 5813-79) are 30% thicker and textured to better absorb greasy messes and gently scrub away dried-on stains. If I’m going to disinfect a surface, I want the wipe to clean it as well, and these wipes do that.

To get the most disinfecting benefit from Clorox wipes, don’t try to do an entire bathroom or kitchen with the same wipe. In the bathroom, use one wipe for the sink area. Grab another one for the toilet and a third for the shower. There must be enough disinfectant left on the surfaces to properly kill the bacteria. After wiping an area down, allow it air dry to get the greatest benefit from the disinfectant.

I found the Ultra Clean wipes to be a favorite because they remove sticky messes in the kitchen and dried-on toothpaste in bathroom sinks easily. They are safe to use on granite, acrylic, and even sealed hardwood surfaces. Any areas used for food preparation should be rinsed with plain water after the disinfectant dries.

Pros: Thicker, heavier wipe with excellent scrubbing power, kills 99.9% of bacteria

Cons: Not available in an unscented formula, must rinse down surface when used in food preparation areas

The best for toilet bowls


No one wants to spend any more time than necessary cleaning the toilet bowl. With Method Antibacterial Toilet Cleaner, you can clean and disinfect all at once.

Toilet bowls, for good reasons, are some of the germiest spots in a home. Cleaning is essential for proper hygiene and there are plenty of cleaners that work well enough to remove watermarks and stains, but do they disinfect? Method Antibacterial Toilet Cleaner (has EPA registration number 75277-2) cleans and kills 99.9% of toilet bowl germs and leaves a fresh spearmint scent, to boot.

I found the baby-blue squeeze container with the angled dispenser the perfect way to reach under the toilet bowl rim. Squeeze, brush, and flush. But if you want to really disinfect the bowl, turn off the water source and flush to empty the bowl of water. Squeeze, brush, and walk away for 10 minutes. That allows time for the disinfectants to really do their work (and helps remove stains). Give the bowl a quick scrub, turn on the water, flush, and you have a germ-free toilet bowl.

Plus, Method strives to use fewer toxic chemicals and sustainable energy manufacturing, and the brand doesn’t test on animals.

Pros: Effectively removes toilet bowl stains and kills 99.9% of bacteria, angled, squeeze dispenser, fresh spearmint scent

Cons: Bottle is not refillable, does not remove hard water stains and mineral build-up

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