There are numerous suitable alternatives to QACs for disinfecting applications. These include chemical alternatives as well as non-chemical disinfecting technologies. Safer active disinfectant ingredients include hydrogen peroxide, alcohol (isopropyl alcohol or ethanol), caprylic acid, citric acid, and lactic acid. The TURI Laboratory has investigated the performance of many of these products in addition to other safer alternative disinfectants. Review more information on alternatives and TURI’s list of safer disinfectant products. Listed below are some of the safer active ingredients and disinfecting technologies available as alternatives to QACs. All products must be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s label directions, including dilution rates and dwell time on surfaces, in order to ensure proper disinfection.
Caprylic Acid: Caprylic or octanoic acid is a natural agent produced by the distillation of coconut or palm kernel oils. In its pure form it is a colorless and corrosive liquid.
Citric Acid: Citric acid is a naturally occurring substance that can be extracted from pineapple waste and citrus fruits. It is used as an active ingredient in antimicrobial products and can be corrosive in its concentrated form.
Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid in its concentrated form that is fairly inexpensive and is easily accessible at most stores. Products that contain hydrogen peroxide as the only active ingredient are generally considered safer alternatives. However, products that contain hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid together are asthmagens and respiratory sensitizers and are not considered safer alternatives.
L-Lactic Acid: L-Lactic acid is a naturally occurring organic acid that can be used in a variety of applications and on various surfaces as an antimicrobial solution. At the highest level of purification, lactic acid is a colorless and odorless liquid. Concentrated L-Lactic Acid is corrosive and a severe skin and eye irritant.
Additional alternative chemicals
In addition, other active ingredients and disinfecting technologies are useful in some circumstances.
Alcohols: Alcohols such as isopropanol (IPA) and ethanol (ethyl alcohol) are clear colorless liquids in their pure form; they evaporate quickly and are best used for spot cleaning. 70% IPA is also commonly referred to as rubbing alcohol. Concentrated alcohols are flammable and exposure may cause nausea, dizziness, headache, and irritating effects to the skin, eyes, and throat.
Aqueous Ozone: Aqueous ozone is a water-based sanitizer that has been used for years primarily for drinking water disinfection. Only requiring water and electricity, the solution is produced at the point of use in an ozone generator. The technology can be hard piped for large production facilities, smaller portable equipment, and handheld spray bottle devices. Aqueous ozone has a short shelf life as the ozone readily reverts back to oxygen. Ozone gas is on the TURA list of Toxic or Hazardous Substances, and chemical and inhalation exposure at high concentrations can cause respiratory irritation and exacerbate asthma.
Hypochlorous Acid: Hypochlorous acid is a chlorine solution that can be generated by dissolving concentrated sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC) tablets in water, or by using electrolyzed water systems, which use salt and, in some instances, vinegar, in water that is electrolyzed in small units. Hypochlorous acid has a short shelf life and a slightly acidic pH between 4.5 and 6.0. Chlorine solutions have inherent hazards, but TURI lab testing has found that airborne chlorine is lower for hypochlorous acid solutions than for bleach (sodium hypochlorite) solutions. For more information on hypochlorous acid, see TURI’s fact sheet.
Non-chemical technologies for disinfection include UV light and steam.
Steam: High temperature, low-moisture or dry steam does not leave a residue or chemical film, and is effective and suitable for many surfaces. The use of a pressurized system to generate steam at a high temperature creates a risk of burns.
UV Light: UVC light may be appropriate for specific disinfecting applications. For example, it can be used to disinfect unoccupied medical rooms and high-tech electronic devices and can be used inside air ducts to disinfect the air. UV light exposure can be hazardous for the eyes and skin.