Non-Toxic Disinfectants

I advise against disinfecting every surface in your home—germ exposure is important to build a healthy immune system. However, there are times when certain areas of your home may need a good sanitizing, such as after a stomach bug. But store-bought disinfectants are downright scarier! Here's several non-toxic disinfectants to keep your home clean AND safe from toxins.

If you have visited this blog regularly this month, you’ve probably learned a lot of tips for natural, healthy household cleaningIt’s so important for our health and for our children to use safe, non-toxic cleaners. However, safer alternatives are sometimes quite hard to find when you need to disinfect your home.

I advise against disinfecting every surface in your home—germ exposure is important to build a healthy immune system. However, there are times when certain areas of your home may need a good sanitizing, such as after a stomach bug.  In our home, we try to keep the toilets disinfected and wiped down daily.  And after an illness, we try to kill germs on doorknobs and light switches, etc.

Mainstream disinfecting products, frankly, are just scary to me.  I don’t use them.  The good news is that there are great alternatives that can be acquired quite cheaply.  I’d like to introduce you to two of the options today.

Melaleuca (Tea Tree Oil)

Tea tree oil is a potent oil derived from the Melaleuca alternafolia plant in Australia.  It has a very pungent smell that some find invigorating.  My children and I quite enjoy the smell.

Tea tree oil has unique properties that make the oil an excellent germicide and fungicide. In the traditional cultures of Australia, the people have been using tea tree leaves as medication for centuries.  The use of tea tree oil as a germicide and fungicide is a bit more recent—about the last century.

Our family uses tea tree oil for a variety of uses.  On Saturdays, I fill a big bowl with hot water and castile soap.  I then add 5-10 drops of tea tree oil to the water.  We use the hot, soapy water to wipe down kitchen appliances and counter tops, as well as the floor.  In the bathroom, we wipe down the counter and floor with the solution.  This is the only time during the week that I disinfect my floors.  The rest of the week, I just use my steam mop.

The thing I love about tea tree oil is that my kids can safely handle it, and therefore help more around the house.  The smell is wonderful, and it makes my house smell so fresh and clean while it kills germs.

If you are interested in using tea tree oil for cleaning, it can be purchased at most health food stores.  The bottles come in a variety of prices.  I would suggest that if you are just using it for cleaning purposes, that you start with the less expensive brands first.

melaleuca alternifolia

Photo credit: Arthur Chapman


Okay, I know that probably half of you gasped when you saw the title of this section.  Vodka? Really?!

Yes, as controversial as it may sound, I have found that vodka does a wonderful job with multi-purpose cleaning.  Because it is alcohol, it kills surface germs effectively.  It is non-streak, so vodka is great to use on mirrors, windows, and other surfaces that streak easily.

But why not just use rubbing alcohol instead of something as controversial as vodka? I get asked this question quite frequently when I tell other women about my choice of vodka as a cleaner.  First of all, rubbing alcohol and vodka are not equal. Rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol, which is toxic when absorbed.  So, when you clean kids toys with rubbing alcohol, it leaves behind a residue that is not safe for little children who put toys in their mouths.  On the other hand, vodka is ethyl alcohol, which is safe for human consumption should your child put the surface in their mouth.

At our home, we use vodka to clean counter tops and faucets since it makes them shine brilliantly.  We also use it to wipe down the toilets and clean windows and mirrors.  Vodka is a wonderful sanitizer as well as deodorizer, so spraying some on furniture after someone has been sick will get the furniture clean.  Because it evaporates so quickly, and there is no smell of alcohol after it dries, so it won’t damage fabric on furniture.  I also use it to clean the kids’ bath toys periodically.

Now, I want to address some concerns you may have with using vodka as a cleaner.   First of all, I believe that you must follow the dictates of your conscience regarding having alcohol in your home—even as a cleaning product.

After discussion, my husband and I felt that vodka was a safe and cost effective way to clean.  So we allow vodka in our home and treat it the same as we would treat any other cleaning chemicals. We immediately pour the vodka from the bottle into a spray bottle and store it with the cleaning supplies.

Another concern that others have expressed with using vodka for cleaning is having to go to a store to purchase it.  That is totally understandable.  I have actually found that you can buy it online, and for cheaper than I assume you would be able to buy it in a store.  You don’t need to buy the expensive kind.  Since it’s not for drinking, the cheapest kind will do.  And the good news is that a little goes a long way, so you wouldn’t have to purchase it very often.

In conclusion, vodka makes an excellent cleaner, and I highly recommend it.  That said, I understand that all of you readers out there may hold different beliefs concerning using alcohol, and that is okay.

Have you used tea tree oil or vodka as a disinfectant? Do you have any tips to share?

Top Photo credit: Susy Morris

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About Beth Corcoran

I am the mother of four children (wait- make that six as of recently!)—two girls and two boys, ages 7, 6, 5, and 2 ½. While not homeschooling or chauffeuring the kids to their activities, I enjoy all kinds of craft projects and learning how to be a better steward of all that the Lord has given me. My blog is Stewardship Not Convenience.

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  1. Teresa D. Tibbetts says:

    It’s good to have alternatives but i was surprised to read vodka. Never tried that and this is actually the first time i have read about it but i think it’s worth a try. I use some natural products like vinegar and baking soda. Anyway, this is interesting. I’m going to try vodka.

  2. I find it concerning that you would regard vodka as “controversial”… Further to which, the misogynistic notion of having to consult our husbands before making such a decision is insidiously disturbing. (My husband is wise enough to know that HIS husband, myself, is in charge of all matters of home maintenance.) Regardless, vodka is no less harmful, but no more effective than a number of natural disinfectants. Buy the good stuff, and save it for a nice cocktail ;)

  3. You are right is just so hard to find the safest things for our kids that would secure their health.

  4. Wonderful article. I’m with you 100% using vodka. I’ve been using it as a sanitizer, especially in the kitchen, for many years. Although, I’m wondering if you dilute it with water and what the ratio would be, or do you use it full-strength? Thanks.

  5. Isopropyl Alcohol will evaporate quickly, so there is no dangerous residue left on the toys. Vodka is a pretty expensive alternative.

  6. Ive just been testing tea tree oil in school against the common bacteria Escherichia coli and it gave relatively good results at a 50% concentration. In the experiment we mixed it with distilled water and suprisingly the 50% concentration worked better than 100% concentration. So if your looking for a good natural way to clean use tea tree oil at a 50% concentration!

  7. I don’t know if anyone mentioned this, but a high-quality vodka can be used as a substitute for a perfumer’s alcohol if you want to make your own essential oil reed diffusers. =) Your post convinced me to take the plunge, ha ha!

  8. interesting what you wrote about vodka…having said that, not sure about it’s effectiveness as disinfectant. have there been any scientific proof that it does effectively kill microorganisms? as a physician, we recommend to our pts that when using hand sanitizer, it must be at least 65% alcohol. vodka at best would be 50%

  9. Pamela Olson says:

    Didn’t know about the vodka. Thanks for the tip, I’ll have to try it out!

  10. Thanks for this post! I’ve been trying to use more natural products, and love your tips!

    Do you put any oils in the vodka when you use if for cleaning?I know some people put some in vinegar, so it leaves a nice smell when it dries.

  11. Great article! I also use apple cider vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (diluted to 3%) for cleaning countertops and general areas. It’s nice to see that society is beginning to understand the negative effect of toxins and chemicals in our everyday products.

  12. KristinaD says:

    We used vodka on my son’s head when he had a cranial molding helmet. Because children wear it 23 hours a day, the vodka cleaned his scalp and killed any germs that were trying to grow on it. It seemed a lot safer than the other chemical soaps that were suggested!

    Thanks for the wonderful tips!

  13. I just don’t sanitize in my home. Sure, I wash the dishes, wipe the counters but that’s as close as I come. We clean our bathroom with a mixture of a pint of water with 1 oz. vinegar and a little Naturerich soap. That’s all. Since we live on a farm with cattle and all, you would think we have our own source of e-coli. However, my kids almost never get sick, as in the stomach bug. If they do it never runs through to others in the household.(activated charcoal in water is my remedy for that) A couple of colds a year, but that’s all. I certainly don’t go around sanitizing during or after. So I guess I’m your opposite. Sanitize away, but I really don’t believe it needs to be done. Normal cleaning is good enough for me.

    • @Marcy, I grew up on a cow and horse ranch and we rarely got sick. We were highly unsanitary – I licked the salt blocks after the cows and horses, ate the horses’ grain, chewed on hay, etc… :) And I don’t over-sanitize my house either, even though I now live in suburbia. Its only people germs that bother me, like in a mall or airport or indoor playground. Ick.

    • @Marcy, The only thing I ever want to sanitize are my countertops after I’ve been handling meat on them. I’m still experimenting with cleaners. They say full-strength vinegar will work. Unfortunately there’s no test to make sure it’s worked, unless I had a microscope!

    • comagirl says:

      so true! I don’t use anything that says ‘anti-bacterial’ and I’m not OCD about sanitizing things in the house. My house is clean and tidy but we rarely ever get sick and I think that’s because we kept our immunity up by probably having little exposures to germs here and there.


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