Antimicrobial products in the home
Antimicrobials are chemicals that can reduce the spread of germs including bacteria, viruses and fungi. Chlorine bleach, which can destroy harmful bacteria, is an example of an antimicrobial product.
There are many products with other antimicrobials added that are sold for use at home. For example, 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 kill germs in laboratory tests, studies haven’t yet proven that they prevent infections in the home. Handwashing using water and either a bar of soap or regular liquid hand soap is still the best way to reduce the spread of germs.
However, there are some cases where antimicrobial products are a good idea:
- Bleach mixed with water* is good for cleaning up major spills of body fluids, such as feces, vomit or blood.
- Alcohol-based hand-rinses and gels should be used to clean hands if soap and water are not available.
Will toys or clothing treated with antimicrobial products help stop the spread of germs?
You should not buy toys or clothing that have antimicrobial products added to them as there is no evidence that these prevent infections. If children put toys in their mouths or play with them when they are sick, simply clean the toys with soap and water 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.
- If toys have to be hand-washed and are heavily soiled with body fluids (feces, vomit, or blood), use bleach mixed with water*, then soap and water and rinse thoroughly.
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 the flu. In general, unless you are caring for someone who is at a higher risk of infection, either a bar of soap or regular liquid hand soap is fine.
To help reduce the spread of illness, you should:
- Throw away tissues after someone coughs or sneezes into them or after they have been used to wipe a nose of someone with a cold. Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after being in direct contact with someone who has a cold or the flu.
- Wash your own hands and your child’s hands with soap and water after wiping his nose.
- Wash your hands with soap and water 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 and water often, especially after changing diapers. If floors, tables or other surfaces get soiled with stool or vomit, use bleach mixed with water* to clean them and wash any soiled clothes right away, preferably in hot water.
- Use pre-moistened hand wipes or alcohol-based hand-rinses when soap and water are not 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?
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, including poultry, keep the meat away from cooked food, fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Never use the cutting board that you use for raw meats for anything else.
- Keep your kitchen clean. Use a mild solution of soap and water, or bleach mixed with water*, 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 if possible.
*We recommend that you use 1:100 bleach solution by adding 2 teaspoons of bleach to 4 cups of water or 10 mL of bleach to 1000 mL of water. However, if you are cleaning up blood, you should use a 1:10 bleach solution by adding 1/4 cup of bleach to 5 cups of water or 100 mL of bleach to 1000 mL of water.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last Updated: June 2017