What is disinfectant?


What is Disinfection? A Complete Guide to Effective Cleaning

Disinfection is the process of eliminating harmful microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoans from surfaces and objects. The primary goal of disinfection is to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and promote public health.

In this article, we will explore the various aspects of disinfection, including what it is, how it works, what disinfectants are effective against, best practices for disinfecting surfaces, and the role of disinfection in protecting against Covid-19. We will also discuss the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, and address common questions about antiseptics, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers.

What is Disinfection?

Disinfection is a process that destroys or inactivates microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans. It differs from cleaning, which only removes dirt and grime from surfaces, and sanitizing, which reduces the number of microorganisms on a surface but does not eliminate them completely.

Disinfection is necessary in many settings, including healthcare facilities, schools, and food service establishments. It is also important in homes and offices to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

What Are Disinfectants Effective Against?

Disinfectants are effective against a wide range of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoans. The effectiveness of a disinfectant depends on several factors, including the type of microorganism, the concentration of the disinfectant, and the length of time the disinfectant is in contact with the surface.

Some common disinfectants include alcohol, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, quaternary ammonium compounds, and phenolics. Each of these disinfectants has different properties and is effective against different types of microorganisms.

Best Practices for Disinfecting Surfaces

To effectively disinfect surfaces, it is important to follow best practices for disinfection. These include:

  1. Pre-cleaning surfaces to remove dirt and grime before disinfecting
  2. Using the appropriate disinfectant for the surface and type of microorganism
  3. Ensuring that the disinfectant is in contact with the surface for the required amount of time
  4. Using the proper concentration of disinfectant
  5. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for use
  6. Wearing personal protective equipment such as gloves and goggles when handling disinfectants

Disinfection in Protection Against Covid-19

Disinfection has played a critical role in protecting against Covid-19. The virus that causes Covid-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets, but it can also survive on surfaces for up to several days. Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and countertops, can help reduce the spread of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using EPA-approved disinfectants against Covid-19. Some common EPA-approved disinfectants include bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and quaternary ammonium compounds.

What’s the Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting?

Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are all important for maintaining a clean and healthy environment, but they are not the same thing. Cleaning removes dirt and grime from surfaces, but it does not necessarily kill microorganisms. Sanitizing reduces the number of microorganisms on a surface but does not eliminate them completely. Disinfecting kills or inactivates microorganisms on surfaces.

Are Antiseptic and Disinfectant Different?

Antiseptics and disinfectants are both used to kill microorganisms, but they differ in their intended use. Antiseptics are used on living tissue, such as skin, to prevent the growth of microorganisms and reduce the risk of infection. Disinfectants are used on surfaces and objects to kill or inactivate microorganisms.

Some common antiseptics include alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine. These are often used to clean wounds or prepare the skin for medical procedures. Disinfectants, on the other hand, are used in healthcare settings, food service establishments, and homes to kill or inactivate microorganisms on surfaces.

Questions to Ask When Choosing Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is a convenient and effective way to clean your hands when soap and water are not available. However, not all hand sanitizers are created equal. When choosing a hand sanitizer, there are several questions to consider:

  1. What is the alcohol content? Hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective.
  2. Is it fragrance-free? Fragrances can irritate the skin and may cause allergic reactions in some people.
  3. Does it contain moisturizers? Hand sanitizers can be drying to the skin, so it’s important to choose one that contains moisturizers to prevent dryness and cracking.
  4. Is it easy to use? Hand sanitizers should be easy to apply and rub in, without leaving a sticky residue.

About Hand Washing and Hand Sanitizers

Hand washing and hand sanitizers are both effective ways to clean your hands and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. However, hand washing is generally considered to be more effective than hand sanitizers, as it physically removes dirt and grime from your hands in addition to killing microorganisms.

When washing your hands, it’s important to use soap and warm water and to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizers should be used when soap and water are not available or when you need to clean your hands quickly, such as when you’re out in public.


Disinfection is an important process for preventing the spread of infectious diseases and promoting public health. By following best practices for disinfecting surfaces and choosing the right disinfectants, we can help keep ourselves and our communities safe. Hand washing and hand sanitizers are also important for maintaining good hygiene and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. By working together and taking these simple steps, we can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases and keep ourselves and our communities healthy.


  1. Can disinfectants be harmful to humans? Disinfectants can be harmful if ingested or if they come into contact with the skin or eyes. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and to wear personal protective equipment when handling disinfectants.
  2. Can hand sanitizers be used on children? Hand sanitizers can be used on children, but they should be supervised to ensure that they use the sanitizer properly and do not ingest it.
  3. Can hand sanitizers kill all types of germs? Hand sanitizers are effective against most types of germs, but they may not be effective against some types of viruses or spores.
  4. How often should surfaces be disinfected? The frequency of disinfection depends on the setting and the level of risk. In healthcare settings, surfaces may need to be disinfected multiple times a day. In homes and offices, daily disinfection of frequently touched surfaces is generally sufficient.
  5. Can disinfectants be used on food? Disinfectants should not be used on food, as they can be harmful if ingested. Instead, food should be washed with water and, if necessary, a mild detergent.
  6. Can hand sanitizers expire? Yes, hand sanitizers can expire. It’s important to check the expiration date and to discard any hand sanitizer that has expired.
  7. Can hand sanitizer replace hand washing? Hand sanitizer can be used as a substitute for hand washing when soap and water are not available, but it is not a substitute for hand washing. Hand washing with soap and water is still considered the most effective way to clean your hands.
  8. Can disinfectants be used on electronics? Disinfectants can be used on electronics, but it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and to avoid getting the disinfectant inside the device.
  9. What is the difference between alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers? Alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain alcohol, usually in the form of ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, as the active ingredient. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers use other active ingredients, such as benzalkonium chloride or triclosan.
  10. Can hand sanitizers cause skin irritation? Hand sanitizers can cause skin irritation, especially if they contain fragrances or if they are used frequently. It’s important to choose a hand sanitizer that is gentle on the skin and to use it in moderation.


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