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Selecting Disinfectants for COVID-19

In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, we are turning to disinfectants for help, but how do we know if they are effective? In general, disinfectants control a wide range of pathogens that are or could be a problem on hard, porous, or nonporous surfaces. These pathogens may include Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Escherichia coli (commonly known as E. coli), and even some strains of the flu. Some pathogens are known problems; some are not likely to be an issue; and others are emerging and therefore have been unavailable to study.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers disinfectants for use and, as such, classifies pathogens into three tiers: small non-enveloped viruses, large non-enveloped viruses, and enveloped viruses. According to EPA, corona viruses are enveloped viruses, which is the easiest tier of virus to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product. The criteria for that classification is based on how the three types are inactivated by disinfectant. When an emerging viral pathogen is identified, a disinfectant manufacturer has to provide evidence to EPA that their particular product can be effective against the pathogen if they wish to make pesticidal claims against that pathogen. 

Normally, for a product to endorse a claim to kill a pathogen, it must prove its ability to be effective against the known pathogen with extensive scientific research, which takes considerable time. In the case of an emerging pathogen, time is of the essence. The EPA offers guidance to registrants on the required criteria when making claims on emerging pathogens not previously listed on their labelon the guide “Emerging Viral Pathogen Claims for SARS-CoV-2: Submission Information for Registrants.” The provisions allow manufacturers to be able to request an amendment to the label by proving that the disinfectant has provided efficacy against harder-to-kill pathogens. (For example, Rotavirus is harder-to-kill than SARS-CoV-2). The EPA reviews the claim to determine its safety and then can approve the claim, thus allowing the manufacturer to make off-label claims to the public. The scientific testing will still need to be conducted and submitted to EPA, but this expedited process can be used to get something in place immediately.

As many products are coming to market, the EPA has been helping manufacturers work through the amendments and create a list of products that can be used against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. EPA is referring to this list as “List N.” When purchasing a product, consumers can check the EPA registration number to see if it is included on the list and will therefore be effective against COVID-19. This list is being updated frequently. The label and table images below are provided as an example of what to look for.  Again, refer to the website for an up to date list. 

Check the EPA registration number on the product label. Locate the same EPA registration number on EPA’s List N.

In List N, the column that reads “Follow the disinfection directions and preparation for the following virus” shows Rotavirus, and the question might be asked, why doesn’t it say SARS-CoV-2? This column lists either viruses that are another type of human coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV-2 or viruses that are harder-to-kill than the human coronavirus.  EPA allows both.  Be sure to note the next column over.  Pay close attention to the contact time, which is the amount of time the surface should be visibly wet, which is listed in minutes.

Before making your final selection and heading to the check out, be sure to fully read the directions for use on the product’s label. Special attention should be given to the contact time on the surface that is treated so there is full effectiveness. Carefully follow all label directions. If a product is not on the list, it has not been qualified for use against COVID-19. Remember that disinfectants are pesticides and the label is the law. For additional information about using disinfectants effectively with steps to reduce your risk while using them, review the National Pesticide Information Center.

Maria Turner

Additional References:

Environmental Protection Agency

EPA List of Disinfectants Against COVID-19

National Institute of Health

Infection Control Today