Despite numerous flu-related public health campaigns and advocacy for proper hygiene, many people around the world still get infected by flu viruses at least once a year. The CDC estimates that 9 million to 45 million illnesses in the United States have been caused by influenza (flu) virus since 2010.

You can get flu by touching a surface that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. The common cold and flu virus produce similar symptoms. However, cold symptoms are caused by rhinovirus, coronavirus, or adenovirus, while flu symptoms are caused by the influenza virus.

How long does the flu virus live on surfaces?

When people who are infected by viruses cough or sneeze, the droplets can be infectious for several hours. The flu virus typically lives longer on surfaces than the common cold virus. How long the flu virus lives on surfaces depends on the following:

The type of surface

Flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. One study shows that on plastic or stainless steel, flu viruses can last up to 48 hours.

The temperature of the environment

In regions where there is a winter season, the flu virus survives longer at low temperatures with low humidity. One study showed that at low temperatures, the virus’s outer covering can harden keeping the virus protected, but at warmer temperatures, this protective covering can melt.

Cleaning vs. disinfecting

Apart from frequent handwashing, one of the best ways to combat flu viruses is to clean and disinfect any surfaces used by suspected carriers of the flu.

However, products that “clean” are distinctly different from products that “disinfect.” Regular cleaning products remove dirt but disinfectants kill the microorganisms that cause sickness.

Cleaning disinfectant products that fight viruses often come in different forms: liquid disinfectant cleaners, disinfectant wipes, and spray disinfectant cleaners.

Active ingredients in disinfectant cleaning products

The most common active ingredients include:

Quaternary ammonium (quats) or benzalkonium chloride: used in disinfectant cleaners to break down the cell membrane of microbes. This is also used as a surfactant, which helps to reduce the surface tension of water making it easier to trap germs. You may see this listed as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride or any other type of benzyl ammonium chloride. BTC® 80 E from Stepan Company in the United States is a quarternary suitable for household disinfectants.

Ammonium hydroxide: this is basically ammonia mixed with water. Never mix ammonia with chlorine bleach as this can produce dangerous gases

Bleach or sodium hypochlorite: an oxidizing agent that breaks down the protein in microorganisms. Many products contain sodium hypochlorite because it works without leaving behind toxic residues.

Hydrogen peroxide: an oxidizing agent that produces hydroxyl free radicals, which destroy membrane lipids, DNA, and other cell parts of bacteria, viruses, spores, yeast, and fungi.

Ethyl Alcohol or ethanol: readily dissolves in water to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Disinfectant products for killing flu viruses

Effective surface cleaning products for killing flu viruses typically work to dissolve the outer membrane of these viruses and destroy their protein components. Apart from frequent handwashing, one of the best ways to combat flu viruses on surfaces is to use disinfectant cleaners.

Popular brands like Purell, Lysol, and Clorox manufacture disinfectant products that kill 99.9% of bacteria and viruses. Below, we take a look at some top products for killing flu viruses:


Bleach is the most common liquid for fighting bacteria and viruses. It contains the active ingredient sodium hypochlorite.

To use bleach, dilute it with water first in the ratio one-quarter bleach to one-gallon water.

Purell Multi-Surface Disinfectant Spray

The active ingredient of Purell multi-surface disinfectant is 29.4% ethyl alcohol.

This cleaning product has been pre-approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against viruses like the flu and coronavirus (COVID-19). This product was named Product of the Year in 2018 in the Home Cleaning Category by the largest consumer survey of product innovation.

The great thing about this product is that it is safe to use near food. It is also versatile and works on both hard and soft surfaces, so you can use it on surfaces like stuffed animals and couch pillows.

Purell multi-surface disinfectant rapidly kills 99.9% of germs within 30 seconds, faster than other EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) products.

Sani-Cloth Prime Germicidal Disposable Wipe

The active ingredients are ethyl alcohol, isopropanol, and didecyldimonium chloride.

Sani-Cloth is promoted for its one-minute speed and power to destroy 55 microorganisms. The list of viruses that can be destroyed by Sani-Cloth includes the Influenza A (H5N1) virus, influenza A/Hong Kong virus, and common cold virus caused by the coronavirus. It is also EPA-approved.

Sani-Cloth wipes differ from Purell multi-surface disinfectant in that they can only be used on hard, nonporous nonfood contact surfaces.

PREempt™ RTU One-Step Disinfectant Cleaner

The active ingredient for RTU disinfectant cleaner is 0.5% hydrogen peroxide.

RTU disinfectant cleaner kills a broad spectrum of bacteria and viruses in one minute. This product eliminates several viruses, including influenza A virus and coronavirus.

RTU can be used for hard and soft surfaces, but it is not for food contact surfaces. Since the product is contained in a spray bottle, you will need to spray the soiled area first and then wipe with a dry paper towel or lint-free cloth.

Clorox Multi-Surface Cleaner + Bleach

Clorox multi-surface cleaner is one product that includes bleach as a part of its active ingredients.

Clorox multi-surface cleaner eliminates 99.9% of bacteria and viruses. According to the manufacturer, you should spray Clorox and let it stand for one minute before wiping with a clean cloth or paper towel.

Note that other Clorox disinfectant products, including Clorox Disinfectant Wipes and Clorox Disinfecting Spray, can also destroy 99.9% of bacteria and viruses.

Lysol Disinfectant Spray

The active ingredient in many Lysol products is benzalkonium chloride.

Lysol disinfectant spray kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, including the common cold virus, norovirus (which causes stomach flu), and coronavirus.

This product can be used on hard and soft surfaces. You don’t need to wipe the surface, just spray and go. Lysol Disinfectant Spray can also be used to freshen your home as it comes with over 10 scents. As a bonus, Lysol disinfectant spray can prevent mold and mildew from growing for up to one week.

For a full list of 100 ready-to-use disinfectant products that can kill emergent viruses such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), please see the new CDC list.


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