Stephen Ashkin 2019

Green Cleaning: COVID-19 - Let Buyers Beware

July 16, 2020
With the incredible demand for cleaning and disinfecting products, estimated to be five times greater than pre-Covid-19 levels, companies are sprouting up to provide products to meet the demand. And in some cases, the buyer should beware.

These are truly unprecedented times. Cleaning and disinfecting in schools and universities have never been so important. But with the incredible demand for cleaning and disinfecting products, estimated to be five times greater than pre-Covid-19 levels, companies are sprouting up to provide products to meet the demand. And in some cases, the buyer should beware.

For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers not to use hand sanitizer manufactured by the Mexican company Eskbiochem SA de CV because the products contain methanol, a toxic substance that can cause short- and long-term health problems.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called on eight technology companies— Facebook, Ebay, Alibaba, Shopify, Qoo10,, and—to address fraudulent Covid-19 disinfectants.

“Unregistered disinfectants can put consumers at risk, as they may be ineffective against the virus that causes Covid-19,” said Susan Bodine, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA is working hard to stop the sale of these illegal products. We also urge consumers to see EPA’s list of approved disinfectant products, available on our website at”

Schools need to be alert about potential hazards in a wide range of products—disinfectants, hand sanitizers, antibacterial hand soap and other cleaning products, tools and equipment. They should be especially vigilant about products and technologies that will be used around children and other vulnerable people.

To prevent the unintended purchase and use of problematic products, schools and universities should follow these recommendations:

  • Disinfectants: If disinfecting claims are being made about its effectiveness against the coronavirus – check to see if the disinfectant appears on EPA’s List N. If not, don’t use it. If a supplier promises that the approval is in the works, wait until it actually has been approved.
  • Green Disinfectants: If “green” claims are being made for the disinfectant, check EPA’s Design for the Environment Logo for Antimicrobial Pesticide Products website. EPA has approved only a small handful of disinfectants for this program. Additionally, the agency has identified the active ingredients that it believes are safer for human health and the environment, including hydrogen peroxide, ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, citric acid, lactic acid, peroxyacetic acid and sodium bisulfate.
  • Hand Sanitizers: Hand sanitizers are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs regulated by the FDA. It publishes on the National Drug Code Directory product listing information provided by the companies that make a drug. Keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a hand sanitizer with greater than 60% ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol. Do not use brands that are based on methyl alcohol. FDA also advises schools not to make its own sanitizer.
  • Antibacterial Hand Soaps: According to the FDA, there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. In fact, some evidence suggests that antibacterial ingredients could do more harm than good in the long term.
  • Other Cleaning Products: Beyond disinfectants, custodians use a variety of cleaning products, coatings, paper products, plastic liners, mops, tools and powered equipment. Each product has its own health and environmental impacts. To simplify purchasing and to buy these products with greater confidence, use products that are certified by an independent scientific organization such as Green Seal, EPA’s Safer Choice or Underwriter Laboratory’s EcoLogo Program. Each of these organizations have clear and transparent standards so purchasers can clearly understand what is covered. Plus, these programs also audit the manufacturers to ensure that they are delivering on their promises.

Remember, every purchase sends a message to the marketplace and to students, staff and communities. During Covid-19, it is important to send a message that the products used by schools and universities are from reputable companies that have followed the necessary due diligence.        

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