In the United States, sanitizing products must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their disinfecting properties, and ammonia is not one of the registered disinfectants. That doesn't necessarily mean ammonia doesn't work as a disinfectant for some types of germs, but it is not as effective as many other sanitizers such as bleach.
Does Ammonia Kill Germs?
Ammonia may kill some germs, such as foodborne pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, but the EPA does not recognize it as being effective at killing bacteria, virus, and other pathogens. So while it is effective to leave glass with a streak-free shine, it's not your best bet for sanitizing. Instead, the CDC recommends using a bleach solution, a registered household disinfectant, or a sanitizing solution with at least 70% alcohol. These types of products kill more than 99% of household germs and are much more effective than ammonia during cold and flu season or other outbreaks.
Never Mix Bleach With Ammonia
In an attempt to boost ammonia's disinfecting power, some people might think mixing ammonia with bleach will cover their bases. However, this combination is toxic and produces a deadly gas called chloramine which could cause shortness of breath and eye and skin irritation or, in large enough doses, it can kill you. Products that contain ammonia such as window cleaner should never be mixed with bleach or products containing bleach for this reason.
How to Clean With Ammonia
ChemicalSafetyFacts.org notes ammonia is a good way to remove dirt, grease, grime, and set in stains, so it is an effective pre-cleaner before you disinfect with another product. Therefore, you can use ammonia as a surface cleaner to remove set in dirt before disinfecting, which allows you to disinfect more thoroughly with another product. Ammonia evaporates rapidly, which is why it is effective in window cleaners at leaving a streak-free shine. To clean with ammonia:
- Create a 1:1 dilution of ammonia and warm water in a spray bottle.
- Spray it on surfaces, such as a greasy countertop, and allow it to sit for about five minutes.
- Wipe away with a paper towel.
- Rinse with a spray of cool, plain distilled water and wipe away with a paper towel.
- Disinfect with a sanitizing product.
Boost Ammonia's Sanitizing Power
The best way to boost the sanitizing power of ammonia is to follow it up with cleaning from a household steamer. Steam is effective at killing more than 99% of household germs, so it's an environmentally way to sanitize without potentially causing the release of toxic gas if you followed ammonia up with a bleach-based sanitizer.
Tips for Cleaning With Ammonia
Ammonia has a harsh, distinctive aroma. Always ventilate well when working with ammonia. Additionally:
- Wear gloves when using ammonia.
- If you plan to follow ammonia cleaning of surfaces with a bleach-based sanitizer, rinse the surface thoroughly with clean water or steam so you don't inadvertently mix the two.
- Dilute ammonia with distilled water to about a 50/50 solution.
- Let the ammonia solution sit for four or five minutes before wiping it away. For stubborn stains or grime, let it sit for up to 20 minutes.
- Always test your ammonia and water solution on a hidden patch of the surface before spraying it on the entire surface.
- Read instructions on the bottle for safe storage and use.
- If the fumes from the ammonia irritate your eyes, skin, or lungs, stop using it, rinse right away, and air out the space.
- Discard paper towels used to wipe up ammonia and those used to wipe away bleach based products in separate receptacles.
Use Ammonia to Prepare for Disinfection
Ammonia is a good cleaner to use prepare a surface for disinfection. Ammonia based cleaners remove difficult dirt and grime from surfaces, which is a necessary step to accomplish before you can disinfect. Once you've removed the grime, rinse away any ammonia residue with steam or warm water and wipe it away with a paper towel. Then, once your surfaces are free of dirt and grime, you can use a sanitizer to kill any germs that remain.