How Much Disinfectant is Too Much?

In the era of COVID-19, many people are increasing their usage of disinfectant in their personal and professional lives. But in this case, "more" doesn't always mean "better."

In many retail operations, management has issued directives to their employees to spray down surfaces after every customer use — this can include walls, seats, counters, and more. You have probably witnessed this same routine: the disinfecting of nearly every surface that is touched in a retail operation. 

Guidelines Must Be Followed

Unfortunately, some instances have been reported where the business misused the disinfectant by not diluting it to the manufacturer’s guidelines. In some cases, the misuse is so extensive that it has caused adverse health reactions in employees who were using or near the chemicals.

With the onset of the pandemic, healthcare guidelines were re-enforced regarding cleaning and disinfecting. For example, a common guideline is to deep-clean examination rooms after patients with respiratory symptoms, and clean rooms between all patients. 

While it is important to always follow guidelines, don’t subscribe to the theory that “a little is good” so “a lot might be better.”

Cleaning and Disinfection in Healthcare

As a healthcare provider, it is important you follow OSHA guidelines for the health of your employees and patients. OSHA provides the following guidelines (our emphasis added):

  • Routine cleaning and disinfection procedures (e.g., using cleaners and water to pre-clean surfaces before applying an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant to frequently touched surfaces or objects for appropriate contact times as indicated on the product’s label) are appropriate for SARS-CoV-2 in healthcare settings, including those patient-care areas in which aerosol-generating procedures are performed.
  • Refer to the EPA website for EPA-registered disinfectants that have qualified under EPA's emerging viral pathogens program for use against SARS-CoV-2.
  • Follow standard practices for disinfection and sterilization of medical devices contaminated with COVID-19, as described by the CDC.

Note that workers who perform cleaning and disinfection in healthcare may require PPE and/or other controls to protect them simultaneously from chemical hazards posed by disinfectants and from human blood, body fluids, and other potentially infectious materials to which they have occupational exposure in the healthcare environment. Employers may need to adapt guidance to fully protect workers performing cleaning and disinfection activities in healthcare workplaces.

Additional Resources

OSHA: 10 Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus [PDF]

OSHA: Healthcare Workers and Employees