The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Disinfecting and Disinfectants


Experts agree that frequent handwashing is one of the first lines of defense against many illnesses. But no matter how many times you wash your hands, there are always some sneaky little germs lurking around to hitch a ride on your skin. They loiter on shopping cart handles, linger on light switches, lurk about the phone and even hang around on the remote controls. That's why disinfectants and disinfecting cleaners can be a helpful option.

Why Disinfect

  • Regular cleaning products do a good job of removing soil and many germs. Disinfectants or disinfectant cleaners are able to go further and kill many of those germs.
  • Surfaces may be contaminated even when they’re not visibly soiled.
  • Germs can live on surfaces for hours or even days. 

How to Disinfect

  • Read the label before using any cleaning or disinfecting product to ensure you are following the directions for use and storage instructions.
  • Pre-clean any surfaces prior to disinfecting to remove any excess dirt or grime.
  • Apply the disinfectant, then the surface needs to stay wet for the entire time indicated on the product label; this is called contact time.
  • If disinfecting food contact surfaces or toys, rinse with water after they air dry.
  • When disinfecting, target surfaces that are frequently touched, especially if someone in the home is ill.
  • If using a disinfectant wipe, throw out after using. Do not flush any non-flushable products.

What to Look for in a Disinfectant

Our infographic shows some of the things to look for on a disinfecting product label.

Products that say "Disinfectant" on the label are required to meet government specifications. To be sure the product has met all government requirements for effectiveness, look for an EPA Registration Number on the label. You must follow the product label instructions exactly for the disinfectant to be effective. Your choices include:

  • Chlorine bleach. It disinfects when mixed and used properly. Read the label for instructions.
  • Disinfectant cleaners. These dual purpose products contain ingredients that help remove soil as well as kill germs.
  • Disinfectants. These products are designed to be effective against the germs indicated on their labels. Surfaces should be clean prior to disinfecting.

Some of the more frequently used active ingredients are sodium hypochlorite, ethanol, pine oil, hydrogen peroxide, citric acid and quats (quaternary ammonium compounds).


Ingredient FAQ: QACs

When killing surface germs is your goal, look for products that are disinfectants, some common disinfectants include Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs), commonly referred to as Quats.

cleaning product bottles
Cleaning vs. Disinfecting Surfaces

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces can go a long way in preventing the spread of illnesses. Find out which you need to do, when and how to do it correctly.

Disinfectant Product Label Guide

When it comes to disinfectants, those labels are a little different from other cleaning products. Our infographic shows the key places to look for information.

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What Are Antibacterials?

Antibacterial and antimicrobial are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Antimicrobial means activity against a wide variety of microorganisms, while antibacterial refers to activity against bacteria.