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Compare Disinfectants

Commonly used disinfectant products are categorized by the EPA as pesticides. This is because, until recently, all traditional disinfectants contained toxic and/or hazardous ingredients. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) controls the labeling, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides. FIFRA requires all pesticide manufacturers to register their pesticides with the U.S. EPA before they are allowed to be marketed.

SpectraSan 24/Pure is the only broad spectrum disinfectant that has been issued a Category (IV) toxicity rating, which is the lowest assigned by the Environmental Protection Agency. SpectraSan 24/Pure is formulated to use around humans and domestic animals, yet is effective enough to kill disease-causing pathogens.

When comparing the effectiveness of disinfectants, lifestyle costs must be considered. Although a product may be less expensive, its negative impact on surface material may require replacing the hard surface more frequently, may increase worker’s compensation claims in a work environment, and may cause environmental damage.


Chemical Name:

Health Effects:

Purpose of Use:

Alcohols - Examples: Benzyl alcohol, Isopropyl alcohol,
Ethanol (ethyl) alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol: Highly volatile. Irritant to eyes and the upper respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure may cause lung damage. Ethanol and isopropyl alcohol are absorbed through the skin and can irritate the skin, eyes, upper respiratory tract, and throat. Benzyl alcohol has been reported as a contact allergen in cleaning products.


Used as solvents and disinfectants in cleaning products.

Bleach: 5.25-6.15% solution of sodium hypochlorite [2].
Hydrochloric acid

EPA Toxicity Category: I

Breathing a high concentration of chlorine can irritate the lungs. Particularly dangerous for people with heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema. Concentrated hypochlorite can cause corrosive damage to the skin and nails. Concentrations below 5.25% not corrosive unless exposure occurs over a long period. Strong tissue irritant. Concentrated bleach can cause corrosive damage to the eyes and mucous membranes. Chlorine bleach often manufactured using a mercury cell process, leaving contaminant mercury in the product.


Bleach is a commonly used disinfectant in medical, commercial, and household settings. Dwell time* – 5-10 minutes (read label for recommended dwell times.)
EthanolamineEPA Toxicity Category:Not listed

Breathing its vapors can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. It is a skin irritant and can be absorbed through the skin. Can cause skin sensitization. Exposure to ethanolamine has been associated with occupational asthma.


Used as surfactant in cleaning products. Used in floor care products, general purpose, glass and bathroom cleaners.

Phenols/chlorinated phenols:
Ortho benzyl para chlorophenol (OBPC)
Ortho phenyl phenol (OPP)

EPA Toxicity Category: I or II

Irritant to eyes and respiratory tract when inhaled. Even at low concentrations is extremely irritating to the skin. Repeated skin contact can cause dryness, itching and redness. Can penetrate the skin. Skin irritant. Occupational exposures may happen mostly through dermal contact. Sensitivity potential reported from animal studies. In California, OPP is listed as a carcinogen


Phenols are used as disinfectants in cleaning products – many considered effective against tuberculosis.
Dwell time* – Generally 10 minutes (read label for recommended dwell times.)

Quaternary ammonium Compounds(Quats) – Examples: Di-decyl
di-methyl ammonium chloride, N Alkyl dimethyl benzyl
ammonium chloride (benzalkonium chloride)

EPA Toxicity Category: III

Because quats are not volatile, inhalation exposures can happen through products’ aerosolization. Commonly used solutions can cause nose and throat irritation. Benzalkonium chloride is a severe eye irritant. Limited evidence implicates quats in the development of allergic responses and occupational asthma. Exposures to benzalkonium chloride have been associated with combined respiratory and dermal hypersensitivity. Benzalkonium chloride is a primary skin irritant in solutions of less than 10%. Exposures to quats may cause allergic reactions to skin. Benzalkonium chloride is a suspected gastrointestinal and liver toxicant, and other quaternary ammonium compounds may have the same attributes.


Used as a low-level disinfectant. High level of disinfection is achieved if different quats and alcohols are mixed. Mostly used in bathroom, floor and general purpose cleaners.
Dwell time – Generally 10 minutes (read label for recommended dwell times.)

Silver dihydrogen citrate, SDC,
SpectraSan 24/Pure

EPA Toxicity Category: IV

No signal words required. Contains no caustics, solvents, or oxidizers. May cause mild irritation to eyes.

Highly effective disinfectant that kills rapidly and provides long term residual efficacy and protection. Provides optimum protection on high touch surfaces found in childcare environments, medical facilities, hospitality industry, and other institutional settings.
Dwell time* – 30 seconds to 10 minutes (read label for recommended dwell times.)


*Dwell time – All disinfectants are tested and labeled for the specific amount of time they must be in contact with the surface to kill the microbes. The times listed are approximate only.


EPA Toxicity Categories Require These Warnings:

Signal Word Category Oral Lethal Dose
DANGER, POISON (skull and crossbones) I Highly toxic A few drops to a teaspoonful
WARNING II Moderately toxic Over a teaspoonful to one ounce
CAUTION III Slightly toxic Over one ounce to one pint
CAUTION IV Practically non-toxic Over one pint to one pound


Based on a 150-pound person

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