Antimicrobial products in the home
Antimicrobials are chemicals that can reduce the spread of germs like bacteria, viruses and fungi. Chlorine bleach, which can destroy harmful bacteria, is an example of an antimicrobial product.
There are many products with antimicrobials sold for use at home. Common household cleaners, such as hand soap and dishwashing liquid, come in “antibacterial” forms, and many products, such as toys and kitchen utensils, advertise that they are treated with antimicrobials.
Do antimicrobial products work?
Although antimicrobial products have been shown to work in laboratory tests, studies haven’t yet proven that they work well in the home. Handwashing using plain soap and water is still the best way to reduce the spread of germs.
However, there are some cases were antimicrobial products are a good idea:
- A mixture of diluted chlorine bleach (9 parts water to 1 part bleach) is good for cleaning up major spills of body fluids, such as feces, vomit or blood.
- Alcohol-based solutions and gels can be used to wash hands if soap and water are not available.
Will toys or clothing treated with antimicrobial products help stop the spread of germs?
There is no reason to buy toys that have antimicrobial products added to them. If children put toys in their mouths or play with them when they are sick, simply clean the toys with water and soap and rinse well before another child uses them.
- Clean machine-washable plastic toys in the dishwasher and machine-washable cloth toys in the washing machine.
- If toys can only be hand-washed, use soap and water or a diluted bleach solution.
How can I stop the spread of viruses in my home when someone has a common cold, influenza or another virus?
Common cold and influenza (or ‘flu’) viruses are found in the nose and throat. These viruses spread through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes. They also spread when people touch objects that have the virus on them.
Handwashing is the most important way to reduce the spread of colds and flu. In general, unless you are caring for someone who is at a higher risk of infection, a plain, mild soap is fine.
To help reduce the spread of illness, you should:
- Throw away tissues after someone cough or sneezes. Wash your hands afterward.
- Wash your hands after being in direct contact with someone who has a cold or the flu.
- Wash your own hands and your child’s hands after wiping his nose.
- Wash your hands after touching objects handled by someone who has a virus.
- When someone in your home has diarrhea or is vomiting, wash your hands with soap often, especially after changing diapers. If floors, tables or other surfaces get dirty, use diluted chlorine bleach (9 parts water to 1 part bleach) to clean them and wash any soiled clothes right away.
- Use pre-moistened hand wipes or alcohol-based hand rinses when soap and water aren’t available. *Keep hand rinses out of the reach of children because they may be harmful if swallowed.*
What else can I do to help reduce the spread of germs in my home?
- Vacuum and clean carpets regularly, especially in areas where young babies play. Shake smaller rugs outdoors.
- In the kitchen, handle food safely, wash your hands often and keep work areas clean:
- Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food.
- When preparing raw meats and poultry, keep them away from cooked food, fresh fruits and vegetables. Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables.
- Keep your kitchen clean. Use a mild solution of soap and water, or diluted bleach, to clean counters, cutting boards and utensils. You do not need to buy cutting boards or countertops treated with antimicrobial products.
- Surfaces that are damaged or scratched can be hard to clean and should be replaced.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last Updated: March 2012