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Disinfectant Safety for Workers During COVID-19

If you use or are around disinfectants at work, you have many options to reduce your risk. Many disinfectants can increase the risk of breathing problems when used often or without enough ventilation and air flow.

There are many ways to control the COVID-19 virus, not just with disinfectants. A layered approach to cleaning and virus control may be lower risk for your health. A combination of methods can help stop the virus from spreading.

You might find the following information useful if you're a teacher or work in child care, health care, public transportation, food service and grocery, cleaning services, housekeeping, or a similar job.

I use or I'm around disinfectants at work

I work with or take care of children

What routine steps can I take for everyday virus control?

What if someone is sick?


I apply disinfectants at work




You should not be feeling sick or have skin/eye problems after using disinfectants at work. This is not normal.

If you work with or are around disinfectants, these steps can reduce health risks:

  • Don't overuse disinfectants. They are not for routine cleaning. Using soap and water has been shown to remove most COVID-19 virus particles on surfaces.
  • Don't rely only on others for instructions. Read the label to make sure you understand how much you're using. Check if you're using it in the right places, and if you need protective clothing or gear.
  • Disinfectants have a contact time listed on the label. This is the time the surface must stay visibly wet with disinfectant to be effective. Follow these instructions carefully.
  • Some disinfectants can increase the risk of certain breathing problems. Check for good airflow and ventilation before using any product. This can reduce the amount breathed in.
  • Use a fan or open windows and doors to ventilate while you use it, and after.
  • If you become overwhelmed by a smell, leave the area immediately.
  • Disinfectants may irritate skin. Avoid touching wet surfaces like doorknobs and wash your hands if you do. Wearing gloves prevents skin exposure to wet disinfectants.
  • Wear protective gloves and other clothing when using disinfectants to reduce skin exposure.
  • You may be familiar with the products you're using, but always check the label. You may need special eye, breathing, or skin protection.
  • Wash your hands after using any disinfectant, even wipes.

Incidents and Reporting:

  • You should not be feeling sick or have skin/eye problems after using disinfectants at work. This is not normal.
  • If someone is sick or injured from using disinfectants, call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 or seek medical attention.
  • If you have questions or concerns about your working conditions, contact your state worker safety office. This is usually an OSHA office.
  • To report exposures, contact your state pesticide regulatory agency. They may be interested if there is improper use, storage, or training for disinfectant use.
  • If you're not sure where to start when reporting a problem, call NPIC at 800-858-7378 for non-emergency information. NPIC is not an enforcement agency.

I work with or take care of children




Schools should not let children use disinfectant wipes or other sprays.

If you work with children and need to use a disinfectant, these steps can reduce health risks:

  • Do not let children under 18 use disinfectants, even wipes. The bottle will say things like "kills viruses", "disinfects", or something similar.
  • Schools should not let children use disinfectant wipes or other sprays.
  • Consider using lunch mats or other covers when children eat at their desks. Consider washing desks where children eat with soap and water instead of disinfectants.
  • Always keep children away while mixing or using disinfectants. Be especially vigilant when mixing because there will be an open bottle of concentrated product.
  • Store disinfectants up and out of reach. If your under-sink storage doesn't have a lock, consider using a higher shelf.
  • Wipe surfaces with clean water after using disinfectants.
  • Open windows and doors or use fans to bring in fresh, outdoor air before, during, and after.
  • Consider disinfecting when children are in a different room or not present, when possible.
  • Bleach is not for routine cleaning. This poster has safety tips when using bleach at child care sites.

Incidents and Reporting:

  • If someone is sick or injured from disinfectants call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 or seek medical attention.
  • To report exposures, contact your state pesticide regulatory agency.
  • If you're not sure where to start to report a problem, call NPIC at 800-858-7378, Monday through Friday, 8am-12pm Pacific Time. NPIC gives non-emergency information and is not an enforcement agency.

Everyday virus control

These everyday steps prevent the virus from spreading:

  • Wearing a mask reduces virus spread, even if vaccinated.
  • Use soap and water for routine cleaning. According to the CDC, household cleaners or soap and water remove most COVID-19 virus particles on surfaces.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water, especially before touching your face.
  • Use hand sanitizer with 60% or more alcohol when soap and water aren't available.
  • Stay 6 feet away from people not in your household.
  • Bring in outside air as much as possible.
  • Allow fewer people indoors at one time.

Virus control when someone is sick

These steps help stop the spread of the virus if someone is sick:

  • Stay home when sick, except to get medical care.
  • Stay separate from others in the home as much as possible.
  • Regularly clean surfaces with soap and water, including anything that looks dirty.
  • If using a disinfectant, clean with soap and water first.
  • Use disinfectants registered by EPA, specifically for COVID-19. Not sure? List N can help you tell if your disinfectant should do the job. Products that only say "Sanitizes" or "Cleans" do not control viruses.
  • Consider using products that are lower in toxicity. Lower toxicity products say CAUTION on the label, instead of WARNING or DANGER.
  • These disinfectants are on EPA's Safer Chemical Ingredients List*. If your product has one of these, it will be listed on the front of the disinfectant container.
    • Citric acid
    • Ethanol
    • Isopropyl alcohol
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • L-lactic acid
    • Sodium bisulfate
    • Peracetic acid

    *Follow all instructions carefully! Higher concentrations or distracted handling can increase your risk when using any product, even if it's lower in toxicity.


Additional Resources:

If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email us at npic@ace.orst.edu.

Last updated September 22, 2021

Related Topics:

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Learn about a pest

Identify a pest

Control a pest

Integrated Pest Management

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Herbicides

Disinfectants

Fungicides

Insecticides

Natural and Biological Pesticides

Repellents

Rodenticides

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