High-touch environmental surfaces are important in the spread of many nosocomial pathogens. Although such surfaces are routinely disinfected, the testing and label claims of many common disinfectants do not reflect the realities of field use. A study was conducted to determine the influence of several crucial factors on the action of disinfectants in general, and to assess the killing efficiency of selected chemistries against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, related to their drying times (i.e., after one application) and label-specified contact times using a quantitative carrier test. The products were also tested for their ability to wet a hydrophobic (epoxy resin) surface. The hard-surface disinfectants (in-use concentration in ppm) tested were: (a) chlorine bleach (500); (b) quaternary ammonium compounds (quat; 600) alone; (c) quat (3000) with 17% isopropanol (v/v); (d) quat (3000) with 60% ethanol (v/v); (e) phenolic (800) alone; (f) quat (2000), phenolic (3000) with 70% ethanol (v/v); and (g) accelerated hydrogen peroxide (AHP; 5000 of H2O2). The arbitrarily set criterion of bactericidal activity was > or = 6 log10 reduction in the viability of both species tested. All surfaces tested with all products dried in < 5 min, with alcohol-based surfaces drying significantly faster. Even though the alcohol-free quat and phenolic claim a contact time of 10 min, they dried in < 4 min after a single application and failed to meet the performance criterion. Bleach (500 ppm) dried in about 3 min and was effective. AHP also dried in about 3 min and met its label claim even at 1 min of contact. Quat (3000) with 17% isopropanol dried at 1 min and was effective. Quat (3000) with 60% ethanol and quat (2000), phenolic (3000) with 70% ethanol dried in < 1 min, and were ineffective. AHP, alcohol-containing quats, and quat-phenolic-alcohol gave acceptable wettability, while quat and phenolic alone, as well as bleach, covered the treated surface unevenly. The findings show that label claims, especially those for contact times, fail to reflect the way many hard-surface disinfectants are used in the field.