Disinfectant for cleaning Pews

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    brian harveybrian harvey

    We are beginning to open up our parishes and I have received questions regarding the cleaning of pews & furnishing. We are looking for a product that is safe for parishioners as well as being safe for the wood materials themselves. I would appreciate any recommendations you might have, particularly those cleaners/disinfectants with a proven history.

    Thank You in advance for your time and expertise

    Brian Harvey
    Diocese of Covington KY

    • This topic was modified 5 months, 1 week ago by brian harveybrian harvey.
    Deanna Ennis

    After researching this question with pew manufacturers and janitorial product suppliers as well as the EPA N list I have recommended our parishes use a quat ammonia based sanitizer such as Lemon Plus (EPA Registration 10324-157) or similar. This product can be added to a bucket containing disposable wipes for a homemade disposable disinfecting wipe. Do not use bleach or alcohol based sanitizers on wood finishes.

    Fabric covered pews are a more difficult problem as there are very few sanitizers listed for non-porous surfaces. The few that are available are intended to be used as a laundry additive with good contact time and are water based and therefore take some time to dry. Nevertheless, we are recommending the use of Refresh (EPA Registration 10324-81) in a spray bottle mist or electrostatic sprayer (which are difficult to find right now but put out a much finer mist). Most churches have reduced the number of services so there is time for a fine mist to dry between application. In addition the excess mist can be wiped off after the contact time has been met.

    The recommendations above were made based on products that were readily available in the greater Houston area 3 weeks ago. As more business open up throughout the country these may or may not be available or better options may be found. This is a moving target. This was the best we could come up with in early May 2020 with very short notice.


    Hi Brian,

    In a couple of weeks the US Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR for Congregations e-news will include this info:

    The EPA lists approved disinfectants for COVID-19 at https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-

    EPA has a list of EPA resources as well as those from other federal agencies working to address COVID-19 on EPA’s Coronavirus website at https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus

    For EPA Guidance on Facility Water Systems for building owners/managers to minimize water stagnation during extended closures and to address building water quality as buildings are re-populated. (A webinar is also being developed.) Please see

    The Institute for Real Estate Management (IREM) Guide For Real Estate Managers includes resources for reopening properties after being closed due to COVID-19. It is presented in the form of checklists and includes specifics on different building types. Please see https://www.irem.org/File%20Library/GlobalNavigation/Learning/COVID19/PandemicReopeningGuide.pdf).

    Best regards,
    Jerry Lawson ( lawson.jerry@epa.gov )
    National Manager
    ENERGY STAR for Congregations

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    Pamela Baldwin

    As a company that has been restoring church pews for over 30 years, our chief concern is with the life of new finishes and not removing the old. If you have a new pew that was manufactured in the past 10-15 years from Sauder, New Holland or Ratigan-Schottler, then you most likely have a conversion varnish for a finish or something similar. These finishes are almost impossible for us to strip off using some of the strongest chemicals on the market. So using standard disinfecting chemicals and wipes are not likely to do any damage to the chemical make up of the finish.

    However, when you have pews that have been refinished or have older original finishes, most of the “cleaners” accelerate the finish breaking down or will remove the finishes all together. We have been contacted by many of our clients about what to use now to “disinfect” the pews and our answer has been consistent. If the CDC says that using a mild soap and water solution is good enough to disinfect our hands, then it is also fine for the pews. The key would be to make sure you dry the pew after wiping it down to minimize any water being left behind. Aggressive scrubbing on old pew finishes may still result in the removal of the old finish if it already lost it’s chemical hardness. Some of the obvious tell tales of a finish in this broken down state are impressions from where people sat against the backs or discoloration of the cap rail along the back of the pews. Also, if the pews are sticky, or are sticky when it gets warm out, then this is another sign of the finish being shot. I will monitor this conversation and will be happy to answer any further questions that you may have.

    Ken Hodes

    Pamela thanks for you response. I have really new all wood pews and have been concerned. The manufacture suggested vinegar and water but that does not kill corona. I have decided to use Bioesque spray. It is a Thyme oil product with no bleach that is on the list of stuff that works. I did a little testing on some extra parts and it didn’t seem to harm the finish when I let it sit. I may end up with some build up but that should clean off when I need to go there. I am waiting for an electrostatic back pack sprayer to make application quicker and better.

    Dave Cripe

    We have been using ShockWave on most of our cleaning.


    Pamela Baldwin

    Ken, when it comes to do a good cleaning of the pews, we recommend using Murphy’s Oil Soap. It is good enough to clean off built up oils and dirt without doing any harm to the pew finish.

    Please note that when we say that some cleaners will break down a finish, it actually accelerates the breaking down process and if used frequently or aggressively the life of the finish may go from 10 years to 5 or start to remove a finish that is on the edge. I don’t believe that what are you using is detrimental to your finish though.

    Please keep us posted on how things go and let us know if you have any other questions.

    Tim CoumbeTim Coumbe

    We use Bioseque Spray and Shockwave CDC approved disinfectants, let it dry and remove silt and apply Murphy’s Oil.

    Tim C. Coumbe
    VP Interstate Restoration

    Dave BeckDave Beck

    New Holland Church Furniture has been committed to providing our customers with a safe and proven product to disinfect the wood seating and furniture during this pandemic. We have been diligently working alongside our finish supplier, Sherwin Williams, for a reliable solution. Based on rigorous testing, Sherwin Williams has recommended Clorox Wipes (No Bleach), to be a safe product that will not be detrimental to the finish. Any other product may contain chemicals or ingredients that could negatively impact the feel and appearance on the finish of the wood furniture. Please use caution as you proceed with other cleaners even though they may indicate that they are safe to be used on wood furniture and do not cause damage to conversion varnish finishes. Immediate damage may not be apparent but could surface over time.

    We do understand that the safety and health of your staff and parishioners are paramount during this pandemic. We also understand that it is extremely difficult to procure this approved product and we are currently working with Sherwin Williams to receive approval on other products that would be approved by the EPA and follow CDC requirements and guidelines.

    We will keep everyone informed as we receive new developments.

    Dave Beck
    Director of Sales and Marketing
    New Holland Church Furniture

    Patrick RatiganPatrick Ratigan

    We have received many calls and emails concerning the cleaning/disinfecting of pews and upholstery because of Covid-19. Unfortunately, there is no one clear answer because of the many different types of finishes used on pews. Modern finishes are very durable and are resistant to most household chemicals and cleaners. Some of the older finishes are not resistant to specific cleaning agents, and the finish can be damaged. The damage to the finish does not always show up immediately; therefore, it is highly recommended not to use harsh cleaning agents or disinfectants on wood surfaces. Wood finish suppliers recommend a very mild soap and water mixture to clean the pews. Anything more than this may damage the pew finish. Various mild detergents on the market are easily obtained, can be purchased in bulk, are concentrated, and are safe to use on any wood finish. I have personally witnessed many pew finishes that have been severely damaged/removed, particularly on the pew cap rails, because the wrong cleaning solution was used. A warm mixture of water and a mild detergent will provide the desired outcome without damaging the wood finish. Wipe on the mixture and wipe off with a clean, soft cloth.
    Although this method is not as convenient and easy as using a disinfecting wipe, it will not harm the finish. As with all cleaning materials, you should test this in an inconspicuous place to ensure there will be no damage to the finish. If the pews have not been regularly cleaned over the years, you may be horrified by the amount of dirt and grime you remove, sometimes exposing a portion of the pew, where the finish may be worn off. Because any cleaning material will build up after several applications, we recommend a product by Guardsman called Wood Scent Wood Polish. This material will remove any residual cleaning agents and will leave a protective coat of wax over the finish to help maintain the beauty and durability of the finish. Doing this a couple of times a year will help to keep the pews clean and protect the finish. This product can be purchased at ACE Hardware Stores and furniture stores.

    Okay, now for the upholstery. This is somewhat of a tricky one again because of the many types of fabrics used on pew seats. We recommend a mixture of 70% Rubbing Alcohol and 30% water. Spay the mixture very lightly over the top of the fabric and let it dry. As with any cleaning solution, do a test spot first to make sure it does not damage the fabric. Make sure to wipe off with a clean, soft cloth any spray that gets on the wood surface.

    Please feel free to contact us here at Ratigan-Schottler if we can answer any questions as well all navigate through these uncharted waters. http://www.ratiganschottler.com or 1-800-383-1000.

    Patrick Ratigan

    Patrick Ratigan

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