6 Steps from the EPA for Safe Disinfectant Use

Disinfectants are harsh chemicals that should be used properly. Below are the six (6) steps to using disinfectants in a safe way outlined by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

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Step 1: Check that your product is EPA-approved

Find the EPA registration number on the product. It starts with EPA Reg. No. and followed by a string of numbers such as “12345-12” or “12345-12-123.”

Then, check to see if it is on EPA’s list of approved disinfectants at epa.gov/listn.

What the sets of numbers mean

There’s a specific meaning for each type of number sets (i.e. two sets or three sets). Here’s what that means:

  • Two sets of numbers mean it has a primary registration number, and if this number is on List N, the product is qualified for use against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).
  • Three sets of numbers mean it has a supplemental distributor product. Similar to above, if the first string of numbers is on the List N outlined by the EPA, then it’s safe to use against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). The other numbers identify the distributor’s EPA company number

Read more about the primary registration number on the EPA’s website.

EPA registration numbers

Step 2: Read the directions

Follow the product’s directions on the back of the label. Check “use sites” and “surface types” to see where you can use the product.

Bleach, for example, can be used on most hard surfaces but should not be used on porous surfaces like rock or wood. Bleach can damage these materials and/or not penetrate deeply into the cracks to properly disinfect. Also, never mix bleach with other household chemicals because it can create harmful fumes.

Don’t forget to read the “precautionary statements.” Here’s what it says on a bleach bottle:

  • Hygiene measures: Wash exposed skin thoroughly after handling.
  • Storage conditions: Keep only in the original container in a cool, well-ventilated place away from incompatible materials.
  • Keep container closed when not in use.
  • Incompatible products: Strong reducing agents.”

Step 3: Pre-clean the surface

Some directions tell you to clean the surface before disinfecting. Soiled areas with dirt should be cleaned with soap and water prior to being disinfected with germ-killing chemicals. Read the label for specific directions.

Step 4: Follow the contact time

Contact time is the amount of time the chemical should be left on the surface for proper disinfection. Some chemicals kill within 30 seconds, others should be left to dry. It takes household bleach 10 minutes to effectively kill viruses and other germs. The directions will tell you how long to leave the disinfectant.

Step 5: Wear gloves and wash your hands

Use disposable gloves when handling harsh cleaning chemicals. When finished, dispose of the gloves. In addition, wash hands to remove any possible missed chemicals on or near the skin.

Some chemicals can cause painful burns or abrasions. If you experience a painful chemical burn, follow these steps by the Mayo Clinic for proper healing:

  • Remove the cause of the burn. Flush the chemical off the skin with cool running water for at least 10 minutes. For dry chemicals, brush off any remaining material before flushing. Wear gloves or use a towel or other suitable object, such as a brush.
  • Remove clothing or jewelry that has been contaminated by the chemical.
  • Bandage the burn. Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage (not fluffy cotton) or a clean cloth. Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin.
  • Flush again if needed. If you experience increased burning after the initial flushing, flush the burn area with water again for several more minutes.

If disinfectant gets in your eye, follow these tips on how to flush your eye by WebMD.

Step 6: Lock it up

Tightly lock up chemicals to keep out of reach from children and pets. These powerful chemicals can be harmful to weak immune systems if ingested.

If your child or infant ingests harmful chemicals, call Poison Control right away: 1-800-222-1222.

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