- Author: Lauren Fordyce
Did you know that disinfectants and sterilizers are pesticides? Any substance that claims to kill, destroy, prevent, or repel a pest, including germs, is considered a pesticide. So cleaning products that claim to sterilize or kill germs on surfaces or be effective against bacteria like E. coli or others, must be registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA ensures pesticide products are effective and do not pose unreasonable risks to consumers when used according to the label, among other things. Recently, the EPA settled a lawsuit against Grocery Outlet Inc. for selling unregistered cleaning products claiming to be disinfectants and sterilizers. To know whether a product is a registered pesticide, look for the EPA registration number on the label. As with any pesticide product, always read and follow the label so the product can be used as safely and effectively as possible.
UC IPM is committed to educating the public on pesticides and their alternatives. View some of UC IPM's resources about antimicrobial pesticides and pesticide safety below, as well as in-depth resources from the U.S. EPA.
- What You Need to Know About Disinfectant Wipes (blog post)
- Using Disinfectants and Sanitizers Safely (blog post)
- Disinfectants are pesticides–so use safely! (blog post)
- What to Wear When Using Pesticides (blog post)
- EPA Registered Disinfectants (webpage)
- About Pesticide Registration (webpage)
- Using Disinfectants and Wipes Safely (webinar)
- What is a Pesticide? (video)
- Why do you need to read the pesticide label? (video)
- Author: Lauren Fordyce
With Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) on the rise, and Covid-19 and the flu remaining constant worries, disinfectant products are more and more likely to be used in the home, office, school, restaurant, and other public areas. Though these products are useful in reducing harmful pathogens, they are also capable of harming us when used incorrectly.
You may not think twice when spraying a surface with a disinfectant or using a disinfectant wipe without wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Disinfectant products ARE pesticides, so check the label to see if you should be wearing gloves or other protective equipment.
To learn more about safe use of disinfectants and wipes, watch the recording from our most recent webinar with Meredith Cocks from the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC).
Be sure to check out the UC IPM webinars planned for 2023 and register for these free, educational events!
- Author: Karey Windbiel-Rojas
- Author: Elaine Lander
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Health Advisory recently in response to increased reports of illness associated with products containing the pesticide ivermectin. Ivermectin is an active ingredient that is typically used to treat internal animal parasites such as roundworms, threadworms, and other parasites, and external parasites such as head lice. It is an anti-parasitic pesticide not an anti-viral. The FDA has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing COVID-19.
The CDC health advisory states “Veterinary formulations intended for use in large animals such as horses, sheep, and cattle (e.g., “sheep drench,” injection formulations, and “pour-on” products for cattle) can be highly concentrated and result in overdoses when used by humans. Animal products may also contain inactive ingredients that have not been evaluated for use in humans. People who take inappropriately high doses of ivermectin above FDA-recommended dosing may experience toxic effects.”
Part of the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program's mission is to provide pesticide information to residents of California to protect human health and the environment. We address public health issues as they relate to pests of homes, people, pets, structures, and plants. Part of our educational efforts in this area is on pesticide use and safety. We do not and cannot comment on medically advised prescriptions or treatment for human diseases and ailments such as influenza, measles, asthma, COVID-19, or any other contagious diseases. However, it is within our charge to share information about registered pesticides, their safe use, and consequences to human health.
Visit our website for more information on pesticides in homes and landscapes. If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing serious illness due to pesticide exposure, contact the Poison Control hotline at 800-222-1222.
- Author: Dawn H. Gouge, UA Entomology
- Author: Shaku Nair, UA Entomology
- Author: Lynn Rose, NH Environmental Services
- Author: Mansel Nelson, NAU, Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals
As many school students resume in-person classes, some school districts are requesting students bring disinfectant wipes into school from home. Disposable, disinfectant wipes may seem a simple and convenient solution to in-class cleaning and disinfection needs, but there are several factors school communities must consider.
Disinfectant wipes are pesticides
Disinfectant wipes are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as antimicrobial pesticides designed to kill or inactivate microbes (germs). Many have “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN” clearly stated on containers. Disinfection products should not be used by children or near children.
Most K-12 students are legal minors under the age of 18 so may not use disinfectant wipes. Students, because of their developmental stage in life, have unique vulnerabilities leaving them prone to negative effects after chemical exposure. Younger students are also more likely to use wipes inappropriately, for example, using them to wipe their hands and faces.
Disposable wipes are not all the same
Disposable wipes may look similar, but they come in different forms designed for very different uses and cannot be used interchangeably. Accordingly, wipes come with differing directions for use. Figure 1 shows a few different types: (A) EPA registered surface sanitizing wipes that can be used on “food contact” surfaces. (B) EPA registered disinfectant wipes for non-food-contact surfaces. (C) FDA regulated hand sanitizing wipes. These are over-the-counter products for your hands and are not designed for cleaning surfaces.
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting
Pesticide label references to “cleaning”, “disinfecting” and “sanitizing” properties mean different things. Cleaning removes bacteria, virus, and other pathogens (germs), dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning alone does not kill or deactivate all germs.
Disinfectants contain chemicals that kill or deactivate specific pathogens indicated on labels. They are used to disinfect surfaces or objects. Only wipes listed in the EPA's List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) are approved for use against SARS-CoV-2, and only if they are used according to label directions.
Sanitizing products use chemicals to lower the number of pathogens on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements.
Some products are EPA approved as both a sanitizer and a disinfectant, however contact times differ and are pathogen specific. Currently, there are no sanitizer-only products with approved virus claims. For this reason, sanitizers do not qualify for inclusion on EPA's List N.
Products for “surface” sanitizing (EPA antimicrobial pesticide) and “hand” sanitizing (FDA over-the-counter drug) may look very similar. Some have different ingredients, while some have similar ingredients. However, these products are regulated by two different agencies, and are NOT interchangeable.
New CDC guidance
New cleaning and disinfection guidance was released April 5, 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the SARS-CoV-2 virus is primarily airborne, it is possible for people to be infected by contacting contaminated surfaces.
Cleaning with products containing soap or detergent reduces germs on surfaces by removing contaminants and may also weaken or damage some of the virus particles, decreasing infection risk from surfaces.
When no people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections are known to have been in a space, cleaning once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove virus particles that may be on surfaces and help maintain a healthy facility. Disinfecting using List N productsdestroys any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces any risk of spreading infection.
You may want to either clean more frequently or choose to disinfect (in addition to cleaning) in shared spaces if:
- There is a high transmission of COVID-19 in your community,
- Low number of people wearing masks who aren't vaccinated,
- Infrequent hand hygiene, or
- The space is occupied by certain populations, such as people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19
If there has been a sick person or someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in your facility within the last 24 hours, you should clean AND disinfect the space.
Use of disinfectant wipes may incur regulatory compliance challenges and lost time learning time in class. Some wipes may require the use of chemically resistant gloves and hands shouldalways be washed with soap and water after using disinfectant wipes, even if gloves are worn.
For teachers and students transitioning classrooms 6-8 times a day, 5 days a week, the use of disinfectants before each transition can incur unusual chemical exposure. Store-bought disinfectant products used in this way far exceeds the frequency and duration of normal consumer use. Therefore, the use of such products would necessitate inclusion in an employer's hazard communication program. This would involve training on hazards and precautions, and staff access to product labels in a familiar language and safety data sheets at each location.
Health and safety risks
Recent events have documented increases in negative health impacts caused by cleaning and disinfection in both homes and school settings. Many ingredients in wipes can pose health and safety risks. Wipes come with different active ingredients and additives. Commonly found active ingredients such as chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite), and quaternary ammonium compounds (benzalkonium chlorides can irritate eyes, skin and trigger asthma symptoms. Inert ingredients can also be problematic. Adequate ventilation while using products is vitally important.
To find options with lower risk look for the EPA Design for the Environment logo on products. Safer active ingredients for disinfectants currently available include hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, lactic acid, and ethanol.
Don't mix products
Mixing products can result in serious injury or death. NEVER mix a disinfectant with another disinfectant, home-made cleaning solutions, store-bought cleaning products or hand sanitizer. For example, mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaners can lead to the production of potentially lethal chlorine gas (Table 1).
Disinfectant wipes have specific storage requirements including temperature limits, ventilation requirements, shelf-life expiration dates, chemical separation requirements, and storage out of reach of children. Never store disinfectants under classroom sinks, on overhead shelving, or in student accessible areas.
For more information about cleaning and disinfecting, see these resources:
- CDC information on cleaning and disinfecting facilities
- CDC on surface cleaning and disinfection needs
- The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) information about antimicrobial pesticides
- US EPA factsheet on cleaning and disinfecting
- US EPA list N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)
- US EPA directory of disinfectants that meet Design for the Environment standards
“Unregistered pesticides in the e-commerce marketplace pose a significant and immediate health risk to consumers, children, pets, and others exposed to the products,” says Ed Kowalski, director of the Enforcement Compliance Assurance Division in EPA's Region 10 office in Seattle.
This is the third pesticide stop-sale order issued by the agency to Amazon in the last three years. Beyond the stop-sales EPA has mounted other efforts to stop fraudulent products, such as partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop multiple imports of millions of illegal disinfectant products imported by or for sale on Amazon. EPA has also provided guidance to e-commerce companies on multiple occasions about their requirements to ensure their disinfectant products are legal and safe.
The agency advises consumers who have purchased an unregistered pesticide product or a misbranded pesticidal device to safely dispose of it in accordance with local, state, and federal laws. This is especially important for consumers seeking to protect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. EPA recommends that consumers only purchase products on EPA's “List N of Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19).” EPA expects all products on this list to kill the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) when used according to the label directions.
Under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, pesticides and disinfectants intended for sale in the U.S. must be evaluated for safety and efficacy by EPA and bear approved labeling with an EPA registration number (e.g. “EPA Reg. No. 1234-56”) and an EPA establishment number (e.g., “EPA Est. No. 12345-AA-1” (domestic) or “EPA Est. No. 12345-AAA1” (foreign)). In contrast, pesticidal devices must bear an EPA establishment number and conform to certain other requirements, but they are not evaluated for safety and efficacy by EPA before marketing.