After the pandemic outbreak of 2020, people became more self-aware of germs and the urge to sanitize everything was born. Hands are easy to sanitize, either with soap and water or a variation of hand sanitizers that come in liquid, gel, wipes, and even mist or spritz bottles. But what to do about those backpacks or purses or diaper bags that we carry in public? That’s why the need for sanitizing fabric has grown.
Sanitizing hands has its share of consequences – dry or rough skin, potential allergic outbreaks just to name a couple – and so does sanitizing fabric. Other than scent, treating fabric with antibacterial spray can potentially discolor the fabrics. So, whether you purchase a fabric antibacterial spray or make your own, you need to test a small discreet area of the fabric before treating the entire item. Look for signs of color bleeding or spotting on the fabric.
Febreeze is a go-to fabric freshener, and when they introduced an antimicrobial version in 2021, plenty of people took note. It kills 99.9 percent of Enterobacter aerogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. While COVID variants are not listed, it’s important to note that Enterobactor aerogenes includes things like bacterial sepsis and meningitis, and of course Staphylococcus aureus relates to a variety of staph infections that can become quite serious.
How to Make Your Own Antibacterial Fabric Spray
If you want to create your own fabric spray to kill the strongest bacteria, you will need to incorporate rubbing alcohol that is at least 70 percent alcohol. Here is a simple homemade recipe for antibacterial fabric spray:
- 1 part water
- 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 70% alcohol content
Mix in a spray bottle. Your spray is ready to use!
You can adjust this if you need less spray solution, as long as you use the ratio of 1:2, water:alcohol. For instance, ½ cup water, 1 full cup of rubbing alcohol.
Why I Don’t Add Essential Oils To My Spray
Yes, it’s that easy. Some DIYers suggest adding a drop of essential oil to provide a nice smell, but there are plenty of reasons to avoid essential oils in this homemade antibacterial fabric spray.
First, some people are allergic to essential oil scents. Secondly, they might leave a film or promote spotting on the fabric. Lastly, the alcohol smell will dissipate if left alone. Just alcohol and water – that’s all that is needed.
Always Test In An Inconspicuous Area
You need to test this fabric spray in an inconspicuous area before treating a large section of fabric. If it’s a backpack or tote bag, do your test on the bottom, a part that few people actually see and probably the part that needs sanitizing the most.
Which Types of Fabrics Can You Sanitize?
Natural woven fabrics like cotton perform well with this kind of alcohol-based spray sanitizer. The thing you do need to watch for is color fastness. Bleeding of colors is promoted by alcohol, so if your item has never been laundered, the colors may bleed.
Microfiber has a tendency to spot when it gets wet. Check to see if your microfiber article has a cleaning tag on it. If it is solvent-safe (usually indicated simply with an “S”), you can spritz it with straight alcohol. Try a test section first and allow it to dry to see how the fabric holds up. Keep the alcohol in a mist rather than a stream and spray from 6 to 8 inches away from the fabric surface.
If your microfiber article tag says it is safe to be cleaned with solvent and water (S-W), then you can use the recipe above. (Don’t forget to test a small area first and watch for spotting.) The important thing is not to saturate the fabric, just mist it lightly with the alcohol and water solution.
If the fabric you want to disinfect is leather, it is best to contact the manufacturer to ask for recommendations. To clean leather, stick with leather cleaning solutions or wipes made specifically for cleaning and conditioning leather.
Notes about Applying your DIY Alcohol Solution
Remember to use a spray bottle with a mist or spray setting. Don’t use the stream setting. Not only does the mist give more coverage, it spreads the alcohol and water so it won’t promote pooling or spotting.
If you have an aerosol disinfectant on hand, there is no need to make this spray mist. Just spray your fabric with the aerosol from a safe distance of about 8 inches (except leather). Even microfiber usually holds up well to this kind of aerosol spray (but still check a small area first and allow it to dry before deciding to spray the entire item).
What about Vinegar?
Vinegar is a great cleaning tool, but I generally avoid it when it comes to fabrics. It has a strong smell that does not always dissipate as quickly as some members of my family would like. Alcohol’s smell disappears as soon as it is dry.
What about Vodka?
I have read of some crafters who use vodka for sanitizing fabric or homemakers who use it for cleaning. While it’s cool to spritz your mattress with straight vodka to freshen it, I think it’s a little on the expensive side. As far as cleaning fabrics go, mixing 4 parts vodka to 1 part water to spray underarm areas on shirts to remove body odor is the best use of vodka (for cleaning) that I’ve seen. After spraying the garments, allow to dry then launder as usual. The problem with using this on some fabrics, like upholstery for instance, is that you can’t exactly launder those after spraying them with vodka.
What about Bleach?
No. I beg of you – don’t do it! Seriously though, bleach is known, well, for its bleaching. Yes, it’s a great disinfectant, but it is not good for all fabrics. It would have negative impacts on any dark fabric and would not be good on any synthetic fabrics.
What about the Sun?
Sun is a great way to disinfect fabrics. Of course, you have to work around the weather to make that happen. Take your fabric or fabric item outside on a sunny day. Fabric can hang from a clothes line. Blankets and quilts can hang or drape over fence railings (make sure both sides get good sun exposure). Prolonged exposure to the sun can bleach fabrics so don’t leave them out too long. A few hours of good sunlight should be enough.