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When killing coronavirus on surfaces, thyme is on your side

Disinfectants have been hard to come by all year. Once COVID-19 reared its ugly head, things like Lysol spray and disinfectant wipes vanished from the shelves. Manufacturers promised things would get back to normal by the summer, but summer has come and gone, and they’re still hard to come by. So finding anything that’s effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus is key.

More: How to disinfect packages from COVID-19

Recently, my wife handed me a can of Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray and said, “If this doesn’t kill COVID, throw it away.” Seventh Generation is a brand of all-natural cleaners and disinfectants, and while we like the hippy stuff, I figured it wasn’t effective against SARS-CoV-2. I did a quick search on the main ingredient, thymol, and I was shocked to find that yes, it is indeed effective against the coronavirus.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Thymol is a natural disinfectant extracted from thyme oil
  • Because it’s derived from thyme, thymol is food safe (although other ingredients may not be)
  • EPA-approved thymol disinfectants can kill SARS-CoV-2 within 5-10 minutes
  • Bleach is still readily available and much cheaper, though not “natural” or food safe

Thymol is a component of thyme oil, extracted from the herb thyme. Thyme has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and thymol is an established antiseptic and pesticide. But because thymol is derived from thyme, it’s generally non-toxic. The Environmental Protection Agency ruled in 2009 that thymol is safe enough that there is no need to “establish a maximum permissible level for residues of thymol.”

The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of disinfectants that are effective against SARS-CoV-2, and there are four that contain thymol, all four from a company called CleanWell, which can kill the virus within five to ten minutes. What’s also interesting, is if you click one of the green plus buttons on the EPA’s website, it lists one of the approved surfaces as “Food Contact No Rinse.”

A table of thymol cleaners with EPA approval to kill SARS-CoV-2

As it happens, that’s exactly how it sounds: thymol is food-safe, so you can spray it on your produce and eat it without rinsing it off. I hope you like the taste of thyme. More realistically, you can safely spray it on your take-out containers to kill any residual virus on them. However, be aware that thymol likely isn’t the only ingredient in these cleaners, and not all the ingredients may be food safe.

More: Getting takeout from a restaurant without catching COVID-19

Unlike many disinfectants, you can still find some of these on the market. For instance, you can readily buy a gallon of the Benefect Botanical Decon 30 with thymol for around $40. As it happens, the Seventh Generation disinfectant products use CleanWell, so they are also effective against SARS-CoV-2 if you can find them:

Seventh Generation Disinfecting Cleaners, Wipes and Sprays with CleanWell® INSIDE have demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 on hard, non-porous surfaces. Therefore, Seventh Generation Disinfecting Cleaners, Wipes and Sprays can be used against SARS-CoV-2 when used in accordance with the directions for use on the product label on hard non-porous surfaces.
Other thymol- or thyme-oil-based disinfectants might also be effective against SARS-CoV-2, but they have not been authorized by the EPA to make that claim.

But before you smash the buy button, be aware that bleach is readily available for a much lower price, and you can use just 5 tablespoons in a gallon of bleach to make an inexpensive and efficient COVID-killer. But you wouldn’t want to spray bleach on your food.


    • Cia

      Good to know! I wanted a spray safe for surfaces because one of our cats likes to jump up on the counters, and I wouldn’t spray them with bleach or Lysol because she might lick her feet and get cancer. Unfortunately that Seventh Generation spray is sold out everywhere. I think a vinegar solution is also effective and safe.

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      • Josh CentersContributor Cia

        The last time I checked, vinegar does not kill COVID. You might want to look into the Force of Nature machine we reviewed a while back.

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      • Cia Josh Centers

        I think they haven’t really researched it. This says that while acids kill viruses, and vinegar is a acid, it likely isn’t strong enough (the word used here, likely.)

        The wife of the Chinese  Prime Minister recommended in March that Chinese women use vinegar to kill coronavirus. She says the shell of the virus is very fragile and it’s easy to disrupt it and kill it. That’s why any kind of soap will kill it.

        Not that that proves anything, but it’s suggestive. This isn’t where I first read it, but it’s the same idea. We used to use vinegar to kill germs when cleaning small pet enclosures, litter boxes, and today the dog threw up in her crate: I poured vinegar in it to disinfect and clean it.  I think cleaning kitchen counters with vinegar would probably kill germs while not harming pets on the counter or people who ate things that had touched the counter. Bleach is a carcinogen. I use it, but rarely and with caution. I’ll look at the health food store and the supermarket to see if they have the Seventh Generation disinfectant. Thanks!

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