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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:

Fast action

Control of many different pathogens 

Ability to work on surfaces that may have soil, peat, or plant material present

User safety


Convenient to use


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.

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





How to use

Where to buy


ammonium salts


Physan 20


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



Less toxic

More biodegradable

Some products recognized as “organic”


Effective on only a limited number of pathogens

Life span of solution is short

Follow label directions

Horticulture supply vendors (Hummert, Grower Supply, etc.)








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



Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol

Immediately effective (no soaking)

Can be used as wipe

No need to rinse


Wipe or dip tool in 70% to 100% alcohol

Grocery stores and pharmacies





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




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

Adapted from Denny and Vallad, 2009 Publication #ENH1121


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

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-12-19)

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

Copyright 2020 by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved. This publication may be copied and distributed without alteration for nonprofit educational purposes provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Produced by Agricultural Communications.

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Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. GARY B. JACKSON, Director

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