As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and federal health officials warn that an outbreak of the novel coronavirus is inevitable in the U.S., a growing question is whether household disinfectants can stop it.

Lysol, Clorox, and similar products have long been touted as having the ability to kill 99.9 percent of germs, often on contact.

That includes diseases such as flu strains, E. coli and salmonella. And Lysol’s label lists “human coronavirus” as one of the pathogens it can wipe out. But that isn’t the novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19; that’s the strain that causes the common cold. 


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So, can they kill the novel coronavirus, COVID-19?

The answers are somewhat reassuring.

Bleach-based products like Clorox are likely to destroy the virus on hard surfaces, since they have worked on similar pathogens such as SARS. 

Clorox wipes, for example, work against rotavirus, a large, nonenveloped virus in the Reoviridae family.

And Lysol, which uses hydrogen peroxide, has also been proven against similar viruses, but on hard, nonporous surfaces (rather than porous ones, such as paper or fabric).


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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a guidance policy that allows companies to claim their products are effective against certain emerging viruses, as long as they can show the products work on other, harder-to-kill viruses.

Both Clorox and Lysol have set up FAQ pages about coronavirus, noting that they have tested products against viruses “similar” to the novel coronavirus, and some meet the requirements set out under the EPA policy, and therefore can be used by those concerned about COVID-19. However, there is no evidence or claim yet that it kills COVID-19 on contact.

In contrast, the makers of hand sanitizer giant Purell were reprimanded by the FDA in January for making unsubstantiated claims that its products prevent the spread of viruses. The FDA was quick to point out that Purell’s products have not been tested against diseases such as Ebola or influenza —or COVID-19.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread primarily through person-to-person contact: an infected person sneezing or coughing near you or breathing on you. 

So, yes, Lysol and Clorox can be useful. But staying away from those who are infected and washing your hands frequently and thoroughly are still the best medicine.


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Published on Feb 26, 2020