How to tell which disinfectants are effective against COVID-19

How do you know which disinfectants can kill the coronavirus?

How do you know which disinfectants can kill the coronavirus? Which disinfectants should you use in commercial non-healthcare buildings? This article is an extract from HPC Solutions new Guide to Cleaning for COVID-19 .

Understanding COVID-19

Before you can tackle an enemy you have to understand it. So what do we know about COVID-19?

In late in late 2019 a new (novel) form of coronavirus was recorded in China and began to spread rapidly. The disease resulting from this coronavirus was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. The WHO declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic on 12 March.

Our understanding of this coronavirus, including how to kill it and how to prevent the spread of infection, is still evolving so advice is mostly based on previous SARS viruses.

What we do know, is that COVID-19 is extremely infectious, we have no immunity, and there are no vaccines. As of April, there were nearly 5,687 cases in Australia and that number, while slowing, continues to rise.

While symptoms are often like a mild flu, it can cause deadly pneumonia and serious lung damage in elderly people and those with underlying respiratory and heart conditions.

Why is surface cleaning and disinfection so important?

Coronavirus is spread via droplets of breath from infected people that can be inhaled if you are within 1-2 metres of that person and by touching surfaces that droplets and respiratory secretions land on.

If the conditions are right, it can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for many days. In fact, other human coronaviruses have remained infectious for up to nine days.

This virus can be picked up from a contaminated surface onto our hands and cleaning tools, which can then spread to:

  • other surfaces that we clean,
  • other people that we touch, and
  • our own bodies by touching our eyes, nose or eating if we don’t wash our hands.

That’s why thoroughly cleaning frequently touched surfaces is a vitally important part of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping us all healthy.

How to choose disinfectants for coronavirus

Both the Australian Department of Health  and WHO advises the use of sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) for deactivating coronavirus on frequently touched surfaces. Their recommended concentration and contact time are listed below:

Disinfectants for coronavirus

Remember that recommendations provided by the Department of Health and the WHO about disinfectants are best practice advice, not regulations.

There are several other types of disinfectants claiming antiviral activity, including: isopropanol, peracetic acid, quaternary ammonium compounds, or combinations of these.

The Department of Health has now updated its advice to include: “The disinfectant used should be one for which the manufacturer claims antiviral activity, meaning it can kill the virus”.

Coronaviruses are encased in fatty envelopes rather than proteins. This makes them quite easy to clean away with soapy water, then kill by spray or wiping the surface with a disinfectant that has antiviral activity (able to kill viruses).

Registered disinfectants that can kill coronavirus

The US EPA has issued a long list of disinfectants that can kills SARS type coronaviruses available for sale in America.

The equivalent in Australia is the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) list which is slightly more complicated.

Disinfectants must be registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and listed on the ARTG  if they are labelled as either a:

  • Hospital grade disinfectant with or without specific claims
  • Household/commercial disinfectant with specific claims

To be registered on the ARTG they must be tested against the TGO 104 Standard for Disinfectants and Sanitary Products.

Only disinfectants that make that specific claim of being antiviral (virucidal) and are listed in the ARTG, are legally able to state that on the product label or website.

But given the devastating spread of coronavirus, it’s not surprising we’re seeing some creative marketing.

In fact, the TGA issued a warning that it is illegal to claim a therapeutic product or service can treat or prevent the novel coronavirus without supporting evidence or being registered on the ARTG.

You can search the ARTG to check if a disinfectant that claims to be antiviral is TGA registered, but if you can’t find it there (and you probably won’t as the search function was developed last century), or ask the supplier to provide you with their ‘approved claim’ and ARTG ID number.

The TGA is moving rapidly to approve new disinfectant claims and on March 27, published information about the appropriate use of disinfectants for killing coronavirus.

In this excellent fact sheet they state: “Disinfectants containing ≥ 70% alcohol, quaternary ammonium compounds (such as benzalkonium chloride) or diluted household bleach (including products containing sodium hypochlorite) are suitable for use”.

How to make disinfects work properly

Whichever disinfectant you choose to use, it is vitally important that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions when you prepare it, and use it, or it could be ineffective.

The concentration of the disinfecting agent in the product, and the length of time it has contact with the surface, are both critical to its ability to kill viruses.

Most important, the surface must be cleaned first of all organic matter before the disinfectant will have sufficient contact with the surface to kill the viruses on it.

Below is a quick guide to preparing and using disinfectants:

Prepare and use disinfectants for COVID-19Bridget Gardner’s Guide to Cleaning for COVID-19 is available for sale. 


  1. Australian Department of Health: Environmental cleaning and disinfection principles for COVID-19.
  2. Q&A: What are the disinfectants recommended for environmental cleaning (WHO).
  3.  Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents, Journal of Infection Control, G.Kampf et al, January 2020.
  4. List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2.
  5. Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) Search.
  6. Therapeutic Goods (Standard for Disinfectants and Sanitary Products) (TGO 104) Order 2019.
  7. Appropriate use of disinfectants: Information for consumers, health professionals and healthcare facilities.
  8. TGA warning about products claiming to treat or prevent the novel coronavirus.

This article has been republished with permission. 

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