The 42 Second Rule and Other Nerdy Germ-Killing Facts You Need to Know

Sanitizing and Disinfecting: Regulation of the “Killing Claims”

Way back in the old days when we got our ATF cosmetic alcohol license (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for you history buffs), we learned a few basic guidance rules, kept our formulas up to spec, and were able to make a sanitizing or disinfecting product claim for any surface cleaning product containing 62.5% or better ethanol. This all changed due to the Patriot Act which rolled ATF into Homeland Security. Homeland Security is great at killing terrorists, but handling germ killing claims is not their area of expertise. They passed alcohol sanitizing off to the EPA. The EPA already regulates killing claims as pesticides through an incredibly complicated, legally expensive and Byzantine system. I think they still use cuneiform writing on clay tablets. That is how VT Soap lost the ability to use our now former ATF license to denote sanitizing products like Toothbrush Sanitizer and Universal Sanitizer.

And THAT friends is why you never see smaller companies making sanitizing claims. Not legally anyway.

Anti-Microbial Claims and the 42 Second Rule

While researching sanitizing chemicals and sanitizing/disinfecting claims (they are the same), I came across something I like to call the 42 second rule. This is what it means:

Spraying, drowning or otherwise coating microorganisms, (viruses for example) with 70% alcohol kills 99.89% of them in 42 seconds. It is amazing that something as basically harmless as alcohol (ok, harmless is debatable) can kill nearly 100% of microbes in 42 seconds. Cool beans!

But! 42 seconds is not considered fast enough to make an anti-microbial claim. To do this you have to kill 99.9998% of microbes in only 30 seconds. Fortunately for the stock market, clever chemists came up with incredibly dangerous pesticides we can add to toothpaste, deodorants, soaps and shower curtains. And, fortunately for you, they did not have to do a lot of long-term testing before letting TRICLOSAN loose upon an unsuspecting public looking for protection from nature’s ills. After more than 20 years of use it is now banned through Europe and partially banned in the USA.
That’s a lot of potentially dangerous exposure just to save 12 seconds! What is really being sold is the word anti-microbial. By making THEIR definition THE definition, only specific chemicals can take advantage of the claim. I have seen products marketed as being effective in as little as 15 seconds. This claim is hard to swallow in the light of science and probably not legal.

Are there other safe sanitizers?

Hydrogen peroxide is safe when diluted down to 3% as sold in your pharmacy. But because it is so dilute you need 10 -12 minutes to get to the 99.89 kill rate. That’s 10 minutes vs 42 seconds. Just saying. Chlorine bleach also requires 10 minutes to reach its full sanitizing potential.

The takeaway is to know what chemicals you are using and what their properties are. Be aware that a quick spray and wipe is simply not going to cut it. And share the 42 second rule!

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