The best disinfecting cleaners in 2021

  • While there isn’t just one product that will easily disinfect everything in your home, we’ve put together the best disinfecting cleaners for everything from clothes to counters.
  • We found the Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Spray to be the best disinfectant for surfaces because it kills 99.9% of bacteria and is safe to use around food.
  • See also: The best hand sanitizers

The world is a germy place and as we interact with others, we share bacteria. Some bacteria are actually good for our body systems but other, viral strains like measles, flu, colds, and most recently, COVID-19, can be dangerous. And, fungal infections like athlete’s foot, while not life-threatening, are pretty uncomfortable.

Disinfecting cleaners kill bacteria and come in many forms — you may see the words “antibacterial,” “sanitizing,” or “disinfecting,” which are used interchangeably by many companies.

But what really matters is the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number that ensures the product has met EPA requirements for killing germs. If there is no number, you’re just wasting your time and money.

Key ingredients to also look for are pine oil, quaternary ammonium compounds, sodium hypochlorite, phenols, and ethanol. Different active ingredients kill different types of bacteria. A good disinfecting cleaner will list which bacteria, fungi, and viruses it is intended to kill.

I’m not a microbiologist, so I rely on the EPA ratings about killing specific bacteria. But along with what I use in my own home, I’ve been testing products for decades as a home economist for companies and publications. I am giving you the disinfecting products that are the easiest to use, the least damaging to surfaces, and the best value.

Here are the best disinfecting cleaners:

  • Best for kitchen counters: Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Spray
  • Best for laundry: Lysol Laundry Sanitizer Additive
  • Best for nonwashable goods: Lysol Disinfectant Spray
  • Best disinfecting wipes: Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
  • Best for toilet bowls: Method Antibacterial Toilet Cleaner

Updated on 1/29/2021: Due to the novel coronavirus, many of these products often go in and out of sale, are available only for in-store pick up, or appear at prices above market retail. For a future update, we plan to speak to an infectious disease expert and a home cleaning expert to provide further information about product efficacy and advise on new recommendations.

The best overall

Bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses are quite common. With Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Spray you can kill bacteria without needing to rinse counters to remove the cleaner.

Pros: No rinsing needed, safe to use around food, kills 99.9% of bacteria, designated as an EPA Safer Choice product

Cons: Not readily available in all many mass-market stores

EPA registration number: 84368-1-84150

Salmonella and E. coli are just two of the bacteria that are common in our food sources, among the many other germs on our hands that we risk bringing into the kitchen. While all of the EPA-registered disinfectants will kill those bacteria if used properly, they require an extra step of rinsing if used around food preparation areas. Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Spray eliminates that rinsing step.

The product is quick-drying, has a rapid kill time of only 30 seconds, and with the designation of a Safer Choice Product by the EPA, it’s safe to touch nearly instantly. Simply spray on a cutting board, baby’s crib railing, or pet’s chew toy and you can use it safely without rinsing.

While it won’t deep-clean surfaces, it is safe to use on plastics, metal, granite, sealed wood, and upholstery to kill germs, thanks to its patented ethyl alcohol technology. It works perfectly to disinfect toys and every room in my home, and I also use it frequently on kitchen counters, door and cabinet hardware, and appliance handles and touchpads.

First introduced to the mass market in 2016, the product is offered in 32-ounce spray bottles and in a 1-gallon jug that can be used to refill spray containers. Because it isn’t a general consumer product, it may be harder to find at your local store. 

The best for laundry

Bacteria can cling to fabrics for several hours after exposure and athlete’s foot fungus continues to multiply in our damp clothes hamper. If you are looking for one product that will sanitize your laundry and not damage your clothes, Lysol Laundry Sanitizer Additive is your best bet.

Pros: Comes in three fresh scents, easy-to-use, kills 99.9% of bacteria on fabric, no chlorine bleach

Cons: Those with sensitive skin may react to dyes or scents, but they do make a Free & Clear version

EPA registration number: 777-128

While most viruses and bacteria are transmitted during human-to-human contact, some can be transmitted from inanimate objects like clothes. Sanitizing laundry is particularly important if someone in your home is ill or has a compromised immune system. Healthcare workers and anyone working with young children should also take precautions, especially during any community healthcare crisis.

We’ve all heard that hot water kills germs. That’s not always true, and the water in our clothes washers doesn’t reach the necessary temperature anyway. Plus, many fabrics simply can’t stand up to hot water. What to do?

Chlorine bleach is an effective disinfectant but it can’t be used on colored clothes or on synthetic fabrics safely. It’s time for Lysol Laundry Sanitizer Additive, which contains a phenolic disinfectant that is safe to use in any water temperature, in both standard and high-efficiency machines, with any detergent, and on any washable fabric.

I simply add it to the rinse cycle and make sure that the cycle is set for at least 16 minutes. To be effective, the product and water must be in contact with the fabrics for a period of time, so be sure to follow the bottle directions carefully. The clothes come out feeling soft and lightly scented with the Lysol Crisp Linen fragrance.

I recommend it for any clothing worn close to the body, children’s clothes, and bed linens to protect against possible cross-contamination.

The best for nonwashable goods

Available in a dozen scents, Lysol Disinfectant Spray kills 99.9% of bacteria on fabrics and hard surfaces making it a clear top performer.

Pros: Disinfects fabrics and hard surfaces, kills 99.9% of bacteria, available in a dozen fragrances

Cons: Not available in an unscented formula, surfaces used for food preparation and children’s toys must be rinsed with water before use

EPA registration number: 777-127

When a family member was sick with the flu or a cold, did he stay in bed or wander out to the couch, use the TV remotes, and head to the kitchen to grab a snack from the refrigerator? If it’s the latter, he probably left some bacteria for everyone else.

A good disinfecting spray like Lysol is not just an air-freshener: It contains the ingredients necessary to kill bacteria and is safe to use on fabrics and hard surfaces.

The key to proper protection is to cover the surfaces with the mist and allow them to remain wet for 30-seconds or up to 10 minutes. The active ingredients in the spray need time to work. Drying times for a specific virus are listed on the container. If you are spraying surfaces that will be used for food preparation, they should be rinsed with clean water after the Lysol has dried. The same applies to toys that children might put in their mouths.

If Crisp Linen is not your thing, there are many other scents to choose from to protect your family. 

The best disinfecting wipes

While the main reason to use a disinfecting wipe is to kill germs, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes also offer excellent cleaning capability.

Pros: Kills 99.9% of bacteria

Cons: Not available in an unscented formula, must rinse down surface when used in food preparation areas

EPA registration number: 5813-79

Clorox knows a thing or two about killing germs and they made life much simpler when they introduced disinfecting wipes. The wipes offer a simple, less messy way to clean surfaces without needing liquids and cleaning tools.

While all of the Clorox wipes contain ingredients that kill 99.9% of the viruses and bacteria on hard surfaces, the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes absorb greasy messes and gently scrub away dried-on stains. If I’m going to disinfect a surface, I want the wipe to clean it as well, and these wipes do that.

To get the most disinfecting benefit from Clorox wipes, don’t try to do an entire bathroom or kitchen with the same wipe. In the bathroom, use one wipe for the sink area. Grab another one for the toilet and a third for the shower. There must be enough disinfectant left on the surfaces to properly kill the bacteria. After wiping an area down, allow it air dry to get the greatest benefit from the disinfectant.

They are safe to use on granite, acrylic, and even sealed hardwood surfaces. Any areas used for food preparation should be rinsed with plain water after the disinfectant dries.

Editor’s Note: Our original recommendation was for Clorox Ultra Clean Disinfecting Wipes, which are 30% thicker and have better scrubbing power than regular Clorox Disinfecting wipes, but given the scarcity of the product at this time, we still stand by the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.

The best for toilet bowls

No one wants to spend any more time than necessary cleaning the toilet bowl. With Method Antibacterial Toilet Cleaner, you can clean and disinfect all at once.

Pros: Effectively removes toilet bowl stains and kills 99.9% of bacteria, angled, squeeze dispenser, fresh spearmint scent

Cons: Bottle is not refillable, does not remove hard water stains and mineral build-up

EPA registration number: 75277-2

Toilet bowls, for good reasons, are some of the germiest spots in a home. Cleaning is essential for proper hygiene and there are plenty of cleaners that work well enough to remove watermarks and stains, but do they disinfect? Method Antibacterial Toilet Cleaner cleans and kills 99.9% of toilet bowl germs and leaves a fresh spearmint scent, to boot.

I found the baby-blue squeeze container with the angled dispenser the perfect way to reach under the toilet bowl rim. Squeeze, brush, and flush.

But if you want to really disinfect the bowl, turn off the water source and flush to empty the bowl of water. Squeeze, brush, and walk away for 10 minutes. That allows time for the disinfectants to really do their work (and helps remove stains). Give the bowl a quick scrub, turn on the water, flush, and you have a germ-free toilet bowl.

Plus, Method strives to use fewer toxic chemicals and sustainable energy manufacturing, and the brand doesn’t test on animals.

Check out our other cleaning guides

  • The best hand soap
  • The best floor cleaners
  • The best mops
  • The best stainless steel cleaners
  • The best drain cleaners

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