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Choosing a Disinfectant for Tools and Surfaces in Horticultural Operations

Publication Number: IS1955
View as PDF: IS1955.pdf

Disinfecting tools and surfaces is one good way to limit the spread of disease-causing pathogens to healthy plant materials in greenhouses, nurseries, and farms, as well as gardens and landscapes. Disinfecting and sterilizing tools and surfaces does not guarantee you will not have plant diseases, but including these practices in your day to day routine can have a big impact on how often disease outbreaks happen and how severe they are. It limits the size of the disease outbreak when it first happens and provides a better opportunity to manage the disease successfully in other ways.

Growers, landscape managers, and gardeners should clean their tools and work surfaces (including floors) with a surface disinfectant. Surface disinfectants are substances that kill or reduce the growth of disease-causing microorganisms. Numerous types of products can be used to disinfect tools and surfaces.

Here are some of the things to look for in a disinfectant:

  1. Fast action
  2. Control of many different pathogens
  3. Ability to work on surfaces that may have soil, peat, or plant material present
  4. User safety
  5. Non-corrosive
  6. Convenient to use
  7. Affordable

Each disinfectant has advantages and disadvantages that should be considered before one is selected. Table 1 offers help in choosing a disinfectant to disinfect horticultural tools and surfaces. It includes a list of the common types of disinfectants, the pros and cons of each, recommendations on how to use them, and where you can buy them.

No matter which disinfectant you choose, the most important thing is to use it. To get the best results, disinfect tools each time you move to a different plant. A helpful tip is to have several tools that you can alternate between plants. While you are using one, the other can be soaking in the disinfectant.


Denny, G.C. & G.E. Vallad. 2009. “Disinfection of Horticultural Tools.” UF-IFAS Extension Publication ENH 1121.

Table 1. Disinfectants for tools and surfaces in horticultural operations.

Disinfectant Products Pros Cons How to use Where to buy
Quaternary ammonium salts Green-Shield Physan 20 Triathlon Very effective
Stable (solution lasts for longer period) Not corrosive
Little residual activity
Not as effective if mixed with hard water or organic matter
Follow label directions Horticulture supply vendors (Hummert, Grower Supply, etc.)
Hydrogen dioxides ZeroTol Oxidate Less toxic
More biodegradable Some products recognized as “organic”
Corrosive Effective on only a limited number of pathogens
Life span of solution is short
Follow label directions Horticulture supply vendors (Hummert, Grower Supply, etc.)
Chlorine bleach   Inexpensive Effective Corrosive
Fumes can be harmful
Short life span of bleach solution (after 2 hours, solution’s effectiveness is reduced by about half), requires fresh batches immediately before disinfecting tools
Not as effective against viruses
10% bleach solution
(1 part bleach : 9 parts water)
30-minute soak
Rinse with water after soak
Grocery and hardware stores and home improvement centers
Alcohol Ethanol
(rubbing) alcohol
Immediately effective (no soaking)
Can be used as wipe No need to rinse
Flammable Wipe or dip tool in 70% to 100% alcohol Grocery stores and pharmacies
Trisodium phosphates TSP Inexpensive Very corrosive 10% solution (1 part TSP : 9 parts water) Hardware stores and home improvement centers (used to clean surfaces for painting)
Pine oil products Original Pine-Sol Not corrosive Not as effective 25% solution (1 part pine oil : 3 parts water) Grocery and hardware stores and home improvement centers
Household & commercial disinfectants Lysol Listerine EndBacII Steriphene II Easy to find
Usually not corrosive
Little research on effectiveness of products against plant pathogens
Relatively expensive
Full strength spray or dip depending on the product Grocery and hardware stores, home improvement centers, janitorial supply companies

Adopted from Denny & Vallad, 2009 Publication #ENH1121. 

The information given here is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products, trade names, or suppliers are made with the understanding that no endorsement is implied and that no discrimination against other products or suppliers is intended. Always read and follow the product label.

Information Sheet 1955 (POD-03-16)

By Geoffrey C. Denny, Assistant Extension Professor, Plant and Soil Sciences.


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