You don’t always need to kill 99.9% of bacteria

Walk down the cleaning aisle of any supermarket and you’ll be bombarded with products promising to kill 99%, 99.9%, 99.99% of bacteria. All vying for the ‘enviable’ position of being the most toxic concoction of chemicals on the shelf.

Yes, some bacteria can make us sick and there are times when you definitely need to disinfect your kitchen or bathroom, but you don’t need to wage chemical warfare in your own home twice a day.

“Chemicals in cleaning products have as much impact on a person’s health as smoking 20 cigarettes a day.”1


Firstly, not all bacteria are harmful – Ask Mr Yakult. Secondly, if these chemicals are so efficient at killing micro-organisms, think what they are doing to your health and the environment? The truth is, biocides (cleaning products that kill 99% of bacteria) are harmful to human health and pose a particular risk to pregnant women, unborn life, small children, or people with serious chronic illness.

Some studies also link our modern compulsion to disinfect our homes with increasing levels of childhood asthma and the under-development of a child’s immune system.2

By reducing the amount of toxic cleaning products in your home and knowing when to clean, sanitise or sterilise, you’ll improve your indoor air quality, your family’s health and reduce your environmental impact.

Do you know when to clean, sanitise or sterilise?


In the vast majority of day-to-day circumstances, simply cleaning surfaces thoroughly and regularly is sufficient to keep people well and areas safe, presentable, fresh smelling and pest free. Cleaning essentially means removing dirt and debris through wiping, washing, brushing, vacuuming, etc and often includes the use of water and detergents.

Cleaning is always the first step. You cannot sanitise or sterilise a surface without first cleaning thoroughly.


In some circumstances, it may be necessary to sanitise surfaces. This involves the application of heat and/or chemicals to a surface, so the number of micro‐organisms is reduced to a level that is safe for food contact and does not permit the transmission of infectious disease.

Situations where sanitisation is required includes food preparation surfaces where raw meat has been placed, periodic sanitisation of surfaces or for infection control.


Sterilisation requires the destruction and removal of all micro-organisms, something that can only be achieved in strict environments and with the use of very harsh chemicals or specialist technology – think surgical equipment.

Sterilisation is an extreme act and difficult to achieve. Even when something is sterilised, it won’t stay that way for long unless it is kept in a sterile environment.

In our modern lives, we have been conditioned to think that in order to maintain a safe and clean environment, we need to obliterate everything with bleach and kill 99.9% of bacteria. Now this is clearly important in some scenarios, but with harsh chemicals comes other problems like allergies, toxicity, indoor air pollution and water pollution.

The key is to know when to clean, when to sanitise and when to sterilise.