Disinfectants and Cats – What is Safe and Toxic

What are disinfectants?   Do not use   Use with caution   Safe to use   How to disinfect   Safety guidelines

disinfectants safe to use around kids

What are disinfectants?

Disinfectants are chemicals for use in the home to kill microorganisms. Such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasites, and fungi. They are an essential part of feline husbandry and help to keep cats and people safe from potentially dangerous pathogens.

When it comes to both cleaning our homes and decontaminating the environment (for example if there has been an outbreak of disease), there is no single product or method which can kill all microorganisms. Some may be susceptible to chemicals, others need heat to kill them (for example protozoal oocysts which are difficult to kill with bleach) or radiation (such as UV light).

Risks from using the wrong can include poisoning and chemical burns. The cat comes into contact with chemicals in the home and ingests them when he grooms himself. Yet so many households have potentially dangerous products not realising how toxic they can be to cats.

Why disinfect? 

Pathogenic microorganisms can spread via direct contact. (coughing, sneezing, mating, grooming etc), and inanimate contact such as fomites. These are inanimate objects microorganisms are found on including food bowls, floors, walls, bedding, blankets, grooming equipment and door handles. It is the disinfection of fomites and the environment that can help to prevent or stop the spread of disease.

Many pathogens quickly die once outside the body, but some, such as parvovirus (responsible for panleukopenia) and ringworm can live for months or even years in the environment, calicivirus can survive for up to a month and cause infection in cats exposed to the virus in the environment.

  • Shelters, boarding catteries, and veterinary surgeries have a greater need to disinfect than households as they have a high turnover of animals who are often stressed or sick (in the case of veterinary surgeries and shelters).
  • If you have an outbreak of an infectious disease or parasite, disinfecting the environment will be necessary.
  • Disinfect litter trays weekly.
  • If you have an immunocompromised cat or person living in the house.

What’s the difference between an antiseptic and a disinfectant?

Antiseptics are used on living tissue such as skin, disinfectants are used on non-living objects such as floors, walls, kitchen benches and litter trays. This article is about disinfectants, for antiseptics safe to use on cats, read here. Never use disinfectants on cats.

Different pathogens require different disinfectants, there is not one disinfectant which can kill all pathogens. Bleach (see below) is a good all-around disinfectant when used carefully, but even that has its limitations. If you are dealing with an outbreak always speak to your veterinarian about the most effective disinfectant.


Do not use:

Phenols (Dettol, Pine O Clean)

These disinfectants are highly toxic to cats. Any product which turns white when water is added should not be used. Do not use around cats.

Clorox (Pine-Sol and Lysol)

Causes kidney and liver cell necrosis.

Essential oils

Many essential oils, especially tea tree oil should not be used around cats due to their toxicity.

Benzalkonium chloride

Another common household disinfectant, mould remover, patio cleaner and acne treatment. This quaternary ammonium compound is classified as a cationic detergent and is toxic to cats.

Use with caution:

Hypochlorites (chlorine)

A common chemical used in swimming pools, chlorine is relatively safe to use around cats in low doses. Chlorine gas is toxic to cats (and humans), as well as undiluted chlorine, which can cause chemical burns. Most bleach products contain sodium hypochlorite (5-6%) and can be used to disinfect. The dilution differs depending on the pathogen, but most commonly is 1 part sodium hypochlorite to 32 parts water. Other hypochlorites include calcium hypochlorite and sodium dichloroisocyanurate.

Caution: Fumes can be irritating so ensure ventilation is adequate. Don’t mix bleach with other chemicals.

Safe to use:

Veterinary disinfectants

  • F10 Veterinary Disinfectant
  • Accel (accelerated hydrogen peroxide)
  • Virkon (potassium peroxymonosulfate)
  • Trigene
  • Trifectant (potassium peroxomonosulfate)
  • Nolvasan (chlorhexidine)

These products are commonly for use in veterinary practices, catteries, and shelters. Some are available to buy online, from your veterinary surgery or local pet shop.

Caution: Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


Between 70-90% concentration for 1 minute. Higher concentrations are more effective.

Caution: Allow to dry before cats have access to the treated area.

Heat and steam

Temperatures should reach a minimum of 121C, washing machines should be set to at least 60C. Steam clean soft furnishings.


There is no one method which will kill all potential pathogens. Bleach is a good all-rounder but will need higher concentrations to kill ringworm. If you are trying to treat or prevent an outbreak of a particular disease, speak to your veterinarian to find out the most effective disinfectant for your particular situation.

Parasitic worm eggs are resistant to bleach but can be killed with extreme heat from steam or fire.

Natural disinfectants: 

Natural products have a place in the home. White vinegar is great to clean kitchen benches, where food is prepared. But when it comes to actual disinfecting, I use bleach (on hard surfaces) or the dishwasher for utensils which have come into contact with raw meat. Most natural cleaners will not be effective in killing pathogenic microorganisms in the event of an outbreak of disease which requires thorough decontamination in an environment such as a shelter or veterinary surgery or to clean litter trays.

Most natural cleaners will not be effective in killing pathogenic microorganisms in the event of an outbreak of disease which requires thorough decontamination in an environment such as a shelter or veterinary surgery or to clean litter trays.

White vinegar

White vinegar can work with a number of microbes which are relatively easy to kill but fail to kill more hardy and pathogenic organisms. I don’t recommend using it to disinfect during an outbreak of disease, to disinfect surfaces or equipment which has been in contact with raw meat, or rely on it to kill pathogenic strains of microorganisms (for example salmonella).

Citric acid

Another great and natural household cleaner, citric acid like white vinegar is able to kill some pathogens but only easy to kill ones. It is not effective against pathogenic strains.

Sodium bicarbonate

Another great and natural household cleaner, citric acid like white vinegar is able to kill some pathogens but only easy to kill ones. It is not effective against pathogenic strains.

Hydrogen peroxide

With so many uses, hydrogen peroxide (6-7%) is a must in the home. I am not sure I would use it if I had a serious outbreak of disease, but it seems out of the natural disinfectants, this one rates highly for its ability to kill microorganisms.

How to disinfect

Disinfecting with bleach

Remove dirt from the area before you apply disinfectant organic matter (dirt, hair, food, feces, litter) will inactivate most disinfectants. Scrub with hot soapy water.

A dilution of 1:32 is for bleach, although this may vary depending on the pathogen. For ringworm, it is 1:10. Use cold water when mixing bleach as hot water decomposes the active ingredient, making the product ineffective.

Leave the bleach solution on the surface for ten minutes. Thoroughly rinse with clean water.

Other disinfectants

  • Read the instructions: Always follow the manufacturers (or your veterinarian’s) instructions in regards to usage and dilution. Each product is different.
  • Remove organic material: Remove dirt from the area before disinfecting. Remaining organic matter (dirt, hair, food, feces, litter) inactivates most disinfectants. Scrub with hot soapy water.
  • Allow to dry or rinse off the product: Where instructed, allow disinfectants to dry before your cat is allowed to come into contact with them. Other types of disinfectant will need to be rinsed off.
  • Cleaning soft furnishings: Soft furnishings such as bedding and blankets should also be disinfected if they can’t be disposed of. The best method is to wash small furnishings such as cat beds in the washing machine, on a hot cycle. Air dry in full sun or add a safe disinfectant to a mister and spray, allow drying before allowing your cat contact.
  • Storage: Store disinfectants in a cool, dark and safe place out of reach of children and cats.

Safety guidelines

Remove all cats from the room while disinfecting and where possible open windows as many disinfectants can cause irritation to the airways and eyes in closed rooms (I learned this the hard way recently while cleaning the bathroom with the window closed to stop the cats escaping).

Wear safety gobbles and rubber gloves when disinfecting to protect the eyes and skin.

Never mix disinfectants unless instructed to do so. Some can become extremely toxic when mixed.

Allow floors and surfaces to dry completely before allowing your cat to come into contact with them.

Remember too to replace cat products such as litter trays every year or so. As they become worn, small scratches develop which can be a great way for bacteria to reside.