Antiseptics and Disinfectants

Selecting Proper Disinfectant

Both of these substances are agents that kill, or at least control the growth of microbes.
Antiseptics are agents that are used on living tissue. Disinfectants are used on non-living things,objects and surfaces.

Antiseptics are used for: Skin, cervical, or vaginal preparation before a clinical procedure Surgical scrub Handwashing in high-risk situations.
Antiseptics are not meant to be used on inanimate objects, such as instruments and surfaces. Antiseptics are designed to be used for reducing or destroying microorganisms on tissues. They usually do not have the same killing power as chemicals used for high-level disinfection of inanimate objects. Therefore, antiseptic solutions should never be used to disinfect inanimate objects.

A wide range of different substances are used as disinfectants, including alcohols (also used as antiseptics), aldehydes, chlorine compounds, hydrogen peroxide , iodine (also another traditional antiseptic), Phenolic compounds and Quaternary Ammonium Compounds(Quats). Different disinfectants work in different ways.


Cleaning some instruments ,Cleaning skin. Variable against some bacterial and fungal species. Good general use disinfectant, fast acting, leaves no residue, and compatibility combined with other disinfectants (quaternaries, phenolics, and iodine)to form tinctures. Fairly inexpensive

Flammable, not to be used near a flame. Not active when organic matter present. Not active against certain types of viruses. Evaporates quickly. Contact time not sufficient for killing. Toxic and an eye irritant.

Effective against wide spectrum of bacteria and viruses. Sporicidal when used properly (10 hour contact period) Bactericidal (good),Fungicidal (good),Tuberculocidal, Virucidal (good), Sporicidal (good) Good activity against vegetative bacteria,spores, and viruses - Non-staining,relatively noncorrosive. Useable as a sterilant on plastics, rubber, lenses, stainless steel and other items that can't be autoclaved.

Toxic properties (carcinogen), Not stable in solution. Has to be in alkaline solution. Inactivated by organic material. Limited and controlled use because of its toxic properties and potential damage to eyes, must only be used in ventilated hood,and limited stability after activation (for alkaline glutaraldehyde).

Chlorine Compounds
Good disinfectant for cleanup of blood or body fluids spills. - Bactericidal (good) Fungicidal (good) Sporicidal (good at>1000ppm Sodium Hypochlorite) Biocidal effect on M.tuberculosis, S. auerus,other vegetative bacteria,and HIV after 10-20 minutes, 1:5 dilution (250ppm) for bacterial spores and mycobacteria, decay Kills hardy viruses Kills a wide range of organisms.Inexpensive. Penetrates well. Relatively quick microbial kill.

Corrodes metals such as stainless,aluminum. Organics may reduce activity Increase in alkalinity decreases bactericidal properties. Unpleasant taste and odor. Tuberculocidal with extended contact time. Eye, skin, and respiratory irritant.

Disinfecting some semicritical medical equipment. Vegetative bacteria and viruses. Highly reactive, rapid biocidal action. Kills broad range of organims effective against Gramnegative & Grampositive organisms,some viruses, and tubercle bacilli. Low tissue toxicity. Kills immediately rather than by prolonged period of stasis. Most effective in acid solutions. Stable in storage if kept cool and tightly covered. Not affected by hard water. Built in indicator (still active if solution born or yellow)

Poor activity against bacterial spores. May stain plastics or corrode metal. May tarnish silver, silver plate, and copper. May stain skin/laundry. Stains most materials. Odor.

Phenolic compounds
Bactericidal (excellent) , Fungicidal (excellent),Tuberculocidal (excellent) Virucidal (excellent) Nonspecific concerning bactericidal and fungicidal action. Stable in storage. Germicidal against Gram-negative and Gram-positive organisms and tubercle bacilli. Effective over large pH range.

Unpleasant odor. Leaves a gummy residue. Some areas have disposal restrictions. Effectiveness reduced by alkaline pH, natural soap or organic material. Limited sporicidal activity. Low solubility in water, Prolonged contact deteriorates rubber. Can cause skin and eye irritation. Not for use on food contact surfaces. Corrosive and toxic.

Quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS)
Ordinary housekeeping (e.g. floors, furniture, walls). Bactericidal (excellent) - Fungicidal (good) Virucidal (good,but not as effective as phenols)- Acceptable to control vegetative bacteria and nonlipid-containing viruses. Contains a detergent to help loosen soil. Rapid action. Colorless, odorless (but act as a deodorizers). Non-toxic, less corrosive.Highly stable. May be used on food prepsurfaces. - Stable in storage. Effective at temperatures up to 212oF. Effective against Gram-positive organisms,bacteriostatic in high dilutions More effective in alkaline than acid solutions.

Disadvantages Does not eliminate spores, some viruses. Effectiveness influenced by hard water. Layer of soap interferes with action. Non-irritating to skin but avoid skin or eye contact. Ineffective against tubercle bacilli,spores and viruses. Neutralized by soap and effectiveness reduced by organic material.