There’s a good chance you have a cleaning spray under your kitchen sink right now. Are you using it correctly?
Are You Using Your Cleaning Spray Correctly?
That may sound like a simple question. But after spending months testing multipurpose cleaning sprays and interviewing cleaning experts and chemists about them, I’ve learned it’s actually not.
Several factors contribute to your spray’s ability to return your kitchen to its ideal sparkling (and safe) self. I spoke with Dr. Jason Marshall, Laboratory Director at UMass-Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute, and Dr. Amina Salamova, industrial chemist and environmental health researcher at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in order to give you straightforward, safe advice for cleaning and disinfecting.
Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter
Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!
1. Learn the Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
Choosing a multipurpose spray and deploying it correctly both depend on your tidying goals. In the vast majority of cases, you should only be using it to clean your kitchen: that is, removing dirt, soils, and food messes with simple detergents.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), here are the differences between the three terms:
- Cleaning is mostly a physical process. Detergents and solvents in cleaning sprays saturate, loosen, and suspend soil particles and a large portion of germs, making all that gunk much easier to wipe away. For everyday tidying, you don’t need anything more than a standard cleaning spray such as our winner from Method.
- Sanitizing is the process of chemically neutralizing (killing) bacteria on surfaces.
- Disinfecting is similar, except it also includes killing viruses.
When santizing and disinfecting (not just cleaning), it helps to have a stronger class of chemicals in your arsenal: antimicrobials. Antimicrobials are substances that chemically kill germs, usually by rupturing their membranes.
Say you have a sick family member and want to disinfect high-contact surfaces such as light switches. Or, you’ve just handled raw chicken and are worried there might be salmonella on your countertop. These are jobs for antimicrobials.
You can buy an antimicrobial product (like our winner, Method Antibac) or create a solution of 2 teaspoons of chlorine bleach and 1.5 cups of water to keep on hand for germy situations. As always, when working with bleach, exercise caution. Be careful not to breathe in bleach fumes while you’re mixing; never mix bleach with vinegar or rubbing alcohol; and check that your surfaces can withstand bleach, as most stainless steel and nonporous stone can.
2. Clean First And Then Disinfect
The most important fact we learned from Dr. Marshall was that you can’t disinfect without cleaning first. This means that when you’re trying to kill germs on a surface, you still need to physically remove any messes or soils first.
Let’s say you’ve been marinating some raw chicken in a plastic zipper-lock bag. As you transferred the chicken from the bag to a baking sheet, some marinade and raw chicken juices splattered on your counter. You should first use a multipurpose spray (with or without antimicrobials) or soap and water to remove the sticky marinade. Then you should apply your antimicrobial spray (either a purchased product such as our winner or a DIY solution of bleach and water) and disinfect according to manufacturer instructions.
3. Let the Spray Sit (Don’t Just Spray and Wipe)
Antimicrobials don’t kill germs on contact. They take time, usually about 10 minutes, to fully neutralize bacteria and viruses. Check the label of the spray you’re using to see how long your particular brand should sit before wiping it off for the antimicrobial ingredients to work.
If you don’t wait long enough, there might not be enough time for the antimicrobials or bleach to fully neutralize the germs you’re trying to get rid of—and who wants to go through all that cleaning and disinfecting and still have germs lurking around?
4. Check If You Need to Rinse
Every spray you buy has instructions for correct usage, which are almost always listed on the label. Make sure you follow those instructions precisely, especially if you’re using a spray to disinfect your kitchen.
Most antimicrobial sprays will direct you to rinse food-contact surfaces (counters, appliances, sinks, etc.) with potable water after disinfecting them. This removes any traces of chemicals and keeps residue from getting in your food. The product label will tell you whether rinsing is necessary.
And if a product doesn’t specify whether you should rinse, but it leaves residue or streaks that you can see, we think it’s a good idea to rinse just for extra safety. You can wet a clean dish towel or paper towel with tap water and wipe up the streaks, then let everything dry.