Disinfectants are being used more than ever to prevent the spread of viruses (like the coronavirus), which is transmitted mainly from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC). They add that though it's not the primary way the virus spreads, a person can contract coronavirus "by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes." To combat this, you might automatically think of a product like Lysol Disinfectant Spray, which is said to kill 99.9% of fungi, viruses, and bacteria. But, is it actually safe to use around the house?
"It works well, but any disinfectant can be dangerous if consumed the wrong way," Dr. Shuhan He, an Emergency Medicine physician at the Harvard Teaching Hospital Affiliate, Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Hunker. "It shouldn't swallowed, ingested, or inhaled because it can cause significant irritation to the eyes and nose."
According to Reckitt Benckiser (RB) — the company that owns the Lysol brand — in its Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for all Lysol Disinfectant Sprays (including all scents), this product poses "no known [acute] significant effects or critical hazards" when it comes to inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion. As for eye contact, it states, "May cause eye irritation upon direct contact with eyes." It also has "no known significant effects or critical hazards" in terms of carcinogenicity (relating to tumors and cancer), mutagenicity (mutations), teratogenicity (developmental malformations), developmental effects, fertility effects, or general chronic health effects.
With regard to overexposure, RB writes there is "no specific data" for skin contact or ingestion signs/symptoms, but says that eye contact overexposure symptoms can include redness and irritation, whereas inhalation overexposure may result in coughing. In their SDS physician notes, RB only writes, "Contact poison treatment specialist immediately if large quantities have been ingested or inhaled."
Yet, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) — a non-profit dedicated to protecting human health and the environment through research and education — rates the product (in the Crisp Linen scent) an F on an A-F scale. For the top scoring factors, the EWG writes, "Corrosive; may contain ingredients with potential for developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects; acute aquatic toxicity; respiratory effects." The F rating ultimately indicates that the product is of high concern and that it poses potentially significant hazards to health or the environment, or that it has poor ingredient disclosure.
On their website, RB does provide information about product ingredients that appear on Designated Lists. The company says, "To aid in managing and studying these chemicals, government agencies and other academic groups often create lists of chemicals that have similar characteristics or concerns. Each of these lists are referred to as a 'Designated List'." They add that their scientists are constantly checking these lists to ensure that their products contain ingredients that are safe to use.
For the Lysol Disinfectant Spray in the scent Crisp Linen, the company discloses that seven of the product's ingredients appear on Designated Lists (abbreviated as DL on the page). This includes the following along with the statements provided by RB:
- Butane: "Chemicals classified by the European Union as carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxicants."
- Ethanolamine: "Chemicals designated as asthmagens by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics."
- Ammonium Hydroxide: "Chemicals designated as asthmagens by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics."
- Delta-3-Carene: "Chemicals designated as asthmagens by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics."
- Eugenol: "Chemicals designated as asthmagens by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics."
- Isobutane: "Chemicals classified by the European Union as carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxicants."
- t-Butyl Alcohol: "Chemicals for which notification levels, as defined in Section 116455, have been established by the State Department of Public Health or the State Water Resources Control Board." When researching this chemical through the State Water Resources Control Board, it states, "Endpoint: Cancer — renal adenomas and carcinomas in male rats, thyroid adenomas in female mice."
Dr. Eric Lee — who has significant experience in outpatient clinic-based medicine, inpatient hospital medicine, emergency departments, nursing homes, and long-term care centers — touches on another ingredient. "Lysol's active ingredient is benzalkonium chloride," he tells Hunker. "It is a known carcinogen and has been shown to cause blindness in humans. It is a dangerous compound and I do not advocate its use." He adds that in 2016, the FDA banned chemicals found in household cleaning products due to safety concerns — benzalkonium chloride was one of them. "Lysol was able, through lobbying, to have benzalkonium chloride removed from the list due to the ongoing research that had not concluded," Dr. Lee states.
However, on the Lysol Disinfectant Spray SDS, the Hazardous Material Information System (HMIS), on a scale of 0-4, rates this product a 1 in the Health category, a 0 in Physical Hazards, and a B in Personal Protection. The latter, according to Interactive Learning Paradigms Incorporated, means that you should utilize safety glasses and gloves to protect yourself from the product.
In summary, you should use precautions with any chemical cleaner like this one, and you might want to find one with less harmful ingredients (EWG has a list of disinfectants and their respective ratings here). In their SDS, RB specifically recommends using this product with adequate ventilation, avoiding direct contact with the body via safety eyewear and glove barriers, and making sure to wash hands thoroughly after using the product. Depending on the type of work you are doing and your own health conditions, you may also need to use a respirator and additional forms of body protection.
As always, if you are worried about how a certain household product will affect your health, consult a healthcare provider. They can provide tips that are specific to your needs.