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 cleaning. It’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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  1. I have read that tea tree oil is toxic to cats and dogs. I was all set to use it, bought some, and then read that somewhere. I love the idea of vodka. Thanks for the alternative. I had also been considering rubbing alcohol, so I’m glad to know about the residue. Thanks again.

    1. @Beth, I know that tea tree oil is toxic in the sense that you’re not supposed to ingest it, but we use it extensively without problems. Unless your dog or cat is in the habit of immediately licking everything you wipe, it wouldn’t be an issue. 🙂 You use it so diluted, I think it would be much less problematic than a bleach product.

      One thing we use tea tree oil for is dandruff control! It is antifungal as well as antiseptic, so we put 10 drops in our homemade shampoo.

      But honestly, I never really disinfect anything. Vinegar & water, 1:1, and chalk the rest up to building little immune systems. 🙂

  2. When using vodka, do you add anything to it, in your spray bottle? I am looking for any natural cleaning “recipes.” Thanks, I so enjoy your posts.

  3. I have never heard of using vodka as a cleaner before. It seems like a great idea. Would you mind giving more specific directions of how you use it? How much do you dilute it, if at all, and with what? Thanks.

  4. Thanks so much for your post! I love reading this blog, and have gained some great ideas from here. I did want to point out, though, that tea tree oil is not completely safe. There has been some research that suggests that it is actually an endocrine disruptor. Here’s a link to a specific study of young boys who had adverse affects to using products with lavender/tea tree oil. From the NIH:


    The most significant statement from the articles is:
    “The results of our laboratory studies confirm that pure lavender and tea tree oils can mimic the actions of estrogens and inhibit the effects of androgens,” said Korach. “This combinatorial activity makes them somewhat unique as endocrine disruptors.”

    As I’m sure the amount you contact using it as a cleaner is somewhat less, I’m still choosing to avoid those particular EOs, just to be safe. There are several other EOs that also have antimicrobial properties, such as my favorite, peppermint.


    Thanks, again, for a great post!

    1. @Chelsea R, Note that the study says “pure lavender and tea tree oils.” That usually means undiluted. So using the oils on their own might be an issue, but I would think that diluting them in water, soap, etc. would be OK.

  5. Love these ideas! I hadn’t heard of using vodka for cleaning purposes but am anxious to try it. 🙂 Thanks for the info.

    Ruth Ann

  6. @Beth,
    Beth, just found this because your comment concerned me, I have a smaller dog! 🙂
    The concern is with the pet ingesting the oils. Even if your cat rolls around on the counter then licks themself, the tea tree oil would be so highly diluted that should not be toxic.
    I have been using tea tree oil for over a year now, and a friend of mine has been using it as well and he has a cat.
    I think the caution is, just don’t give it to them intentionally to ingest. I’d rather risk them ingesting that then any caustic chemical. Just something to consider. 🙂

  7. @Beth,
    Beth, just found this because your comment concerned me, I have a smaller dog! 🙂
    The concern is with the pet ingesting the oils. Even if your cat rolls around on the counter then licks themself, the tea tree oil would be so highly diluted that should not be toxic.
    I have been using tea tree oil for over a year now, and a friend of mine has been using it as well and he has a cat.
    I think the caution is, just don’t give it to them intentionally to ingest. I’d rather risk them ingesting that then any caustic chemical. Just something to consider. 🙂

  8. Beth,
    Thank you so much for posting this! I have been using Tea Tree for a bit, but not vodka, the tea tree/vinegar solution I’ve been using does tend to leave streaks when I wash windows (if I don ‘t use a lot of elbow grease), so that is great info.
    I also use it in my natural laundry detergent recipe.
    I do have these recipes on my website, tho I should update the tea tree/vinegar one to my latest mix! 🙂
    Thanks so much! 🙂

  9. I am wondering about the mix you use when using vodka….do you mix it with water or use it straight?

  10. We don’t drink alcohol, but we do have some in the house for medicinal purposes (I made peach pit brandy) and making vanilla extract. I never thought of using it for cleaning, though, interesting. We decided that the alcohol was not a problem when we knew what it was used for and stuck to that, but we have no temptation to drink, and obviously our children don’t see that modeled (none of our parents drink either).

    What about lavender oil or other EO? I don’t really like the scent or TTO.

  11. I loe the vodka idea. I was encouraged to use hydrogen peroxide by a friend, but it seems more “organic” (for lack of a better word) to use a food product like vodka. I’ll have to pick up some extra next time I’m getting some for homemade vanilla.

  12. Just curious, have any of you tried the Norwex cloths? I LOVE them! The claim is that they are made with real silver threading and the silver makes them antibacterial. So you just get the towel damp and wipe down whatever needs cleaning – door handles, light switches, tables. I just bought the toilet wand too. They are kind of expensive but I love how you just clean with water.

  13. Genius! I do have a question. Somewhere, maybe on this site, it saw recipe for a room deodorizing spray using white vinegar, water & essential oil of choice. However, the vinegar does have an odor that my family does not like (even though it goes away). So could I use the vodka to replace vinegar??? Also does it clean mirrors, windows etc. better than white vinegar?

    1. @Kathy L.,
      USe 1 part Vodka, 1 part water and essential oil 10+ drops til you get the scent you like. I have tries it with both white vinegar and rubbing alcohol with less than glowing result due to the strong odor. The vodka works wonderful, made with peppermint essential oil, lavendar, and orange all turned out great. Good Luck

  14. Seriously? Tea Tree oil is from Malaluecas??

    So, I will have to Google it, but I wonder how possible it is to make my own? I am not from Australia, but they brought those trees over to Florida to soak up the water in the swamps a a century plus ago (which turned out to be a bad idea in the area since its difficult to get rid of the tree and its not native so it takes over, and soaks too much water – but, they have the best bark! We used to call them paper trees as kids b/c of the soft bark layer you can pull off the trunk). Well, now my husband are in TX, but we always go home for visits, so maybe if its easy I can make some?

    Anyways, good information! Thanks

  15. I have never thought to use vodka to disinfect, but now I can’t wait to try it out. One question though…where do I put the olives? 🙂

  16. I have been using club soda for my mirrors for several years and never have streaks–also fabulous for windows. Invest in microfiber rags, too.

  17. I use hydrogen peroxide all the time for disinfectant and love it. You need to be sure to store it in a dark opaque bottle and you can’t mix it with anything – just use it straight (3% or less over-the-counter versions). It turns into water and oxygen gas when exposed to light (the oxygen gas is what does the disinfecting), so I feel completely comfortable using it liberally on my highchair, wooden cutting board, and kitchen counters. Plus, you know when it’s working because it makes a fizzy sound when it comes in contact with something to disinfect. And you can even let it air dry since it’s just water by that point 🙂

  18. Thanks for the suggestions–I had no idea vodka had all those household uses! A couple of tips:
    1. If you use it undiluted, white vinegar is also an effective disinfectant.
    2. Dr. Bronner’s makes a castile soap with tea tree oil already in it. I don’t know if the concentration is high enough for serious disinfection, but it’s adequate for things like dandruff.

  19. I love the idea of filling a bowl with warm water, soap and tea tree oil and then giving everything a good clean. I’m doing that next cleaning day!

  20. Vodka – wow! never thought of that! I use vinegar all the time but never thought of vodka. One of my goals this year is to “change out’ my cleaning products. I still have window cleaner and lysol cleaners that I’m using now until I get to that part of my “2011 To Do” list. Thanks for the post – it will help me out a great deal!

  21. I use water and vinegar 1:1 with 10 drops TTO to disinfect my goat milking pail.

    Curious-doesn’t using the steam mop disinfect the floors? Thought steam was so hot it killed it all?

  22. Great ideas! Love it.

    Regarding the previous posts about using vinegar for windows and mirrors – I find that a pure vinegar and water mixture is entirely streak-free for windows/mirrors. If you add anything to it like essential oils or lemon it is no longer streak free.

    Pure tea tree oil is super strong – I spilled a drop and it removed the Sharpie ink that I used to label my cleaning bottle!

  23. Stephanie,

    Have you ever used steam vapor cleaner? The heavy-duty Italian-made kind? Before a friend loaned me hers (a yellow VS 1500) we used only one extremely effective natural cleaner for everything, but my mum-in-law just bought us a vapor cleaner, (this was right up there at the Berkey level of desirable objects for the home!) and I have to say, there isn’t a germ that 300 degree steam can’t seem to obliterate. If you ever have the loan of one, I’d love to know your opinion!

  24. 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.

    1. @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.

    2. @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!

    3. 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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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%

  29. 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!

  30. 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!

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

  32. 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.

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

  34. 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 😉

  35. 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.

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