The Effectiveness of Lysol

Kat Stromquist

Lysol, a household sanitizer, is made from alcohol and ammonia. It fights bacteria and germs commonly found in the home.

Lysol, first introduced in 1889 as a spray to fight the spread of cholera, is owned by European consumer-goods conglomerate Reckitt-Benckiser. The company sells a variety of cleaning and disinfecting household products, and its flagship spray is a mainstay of many cleaning arsenals.

Lysol's Key Ingredients

In spray form, Lysol is an aerosol, meaning it is a highly compressed liquid that is diffused as a gas. The liquid is composed of the following:

  • Denatured ethyl alcohol: This is alcohol with bitter or poisonous additives, which serves two purposes. The additives make the substance unpleasant to drink, to deter accidental consumption of toxic fluids. Since it is not for drinking, it also avoids "sin taxes" mandated on the sale of alcoholic beverages.
  • Dimethyl benzyl ammonium saccharinate, a disinfectant approved by the EPA.
  • Carbon dioxide, a propellant that helps release the spray from the can.
  • Inactive ingredients.

Over the years, Lysol has contained a variety of ingredients which are now outlawed or not recommended for frequent household use, such as 2-phenylphenols. Other forms of Lysol, such as the disinfecting wipes, use different ammonium derivatives. But its primary bacteria-killing properties come from alcohol and ammonia.

Which Germs Will Lysol Wipe Out?

Lysol has shown effectiveness against fungus -- including molds and mildew -- influenza -- the flu -- E. coli, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), stomach-turning virii and bacteria like rotavirus and salmonella, and staphylococcal bacteria, which can lead to a wide variety of dangerous or even deadly infections.

Some studies have shown that the Lysol wipes can also eliminate the H1N1 virus and both forms of herpes.

How Does Lysol Affect Bacteria?

Lysol claims to destroy 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria; those it doesn't wipe out usually survive in cracks and porous surfaces. Technically, it is categorized as a sanitizer and not a disinfectant, so the brand is not required to have a 100 percent "kill rate."

Lysol works by reducing the number of bacteria, so they won't have the opportunity to breed and by creating a toxic environment at the micro-level for any survivors. Most bacteria have a very limited range of environments in which they can maintain homeostasis, and when that environment is disrupted, they die.

Lysol also destroys viruses, especially in places where large numbers of people have congregated and transferred microorganisms to different surfaces. Human immune systems are much more likely to be able to fight off exposure to individual virus particles than virus "clusters."


Lysol isn't just harmful to microorganisms. Don't spray it directly on your skin or drink it; it has corrosive properties and can cause severe chemical burns.