Disinfectants vs Antiseptics

Antiseptics and disinfectants are widely used to fight infections. They kill microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, by using chemicals called biocides. Disinfectants are used to eliminate germs that are found on nonliving surfaces. Antiseptics kill microorganisms that reside on your skin.


What is Disinfectant?

A disinfectant can be described as an antimicrobial ingredient that is applied on the surface of some objects to eliminate the microorganisms that reside on it.


Types of Disinfectants

There are numerous kinds of disinfectants that can be used on surfaces. They are typically designed for a specific purpose and are meant to be used in a certain way because they do not work well against all microbes. Many disinfectants aren’t able to eliminate bacterial spores, for instance.


Disinfectants may contain the same chemicals that are used in antiseptics but in greater quantities. It is not recommended to use disinfectants on your skin. Chemical disinfectants include:

  • Alcohol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Glutaraldehyde
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds
  • Chlorine compounds
  • Iodophors
  • Ortho-phthalaldehyde (OPA)
  • Phenolics
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Peracetic acid
  • Peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide


Other kinds of disinfectants include:

  • Ultraviolet radiation
  • Other germicides
  • Pasteurization
  • Metals as microbicides
  • Flushing- and washer-disinfectors


Proper Use of Disinfectants

Disinfectants must be used properly in order to be effective. The manufacturer will give instructions on how to use the product properly. A few aspects that must be considered include:

  • If the disinfectant work against the microbe that you’re targeting
  • If the disinfectant is at the right concentration
  • How long will the disinfectant have to stay on the surface
  • The disinfectant’s expiration date
  • Cleaning the area before disinfecting
  • Right pH level and water temperature 
  • Water hardness
  • If it is safe to use on the surface, you’re disinfecting
  • Safety measures to protect yourself from hazards


What is an Antiseptic?

Antiseptics are antimicrobial agents which can be applied on the body of living organisms to hinder the action of microbes. They aren’t injected directly into the body, like antibiotics, but instead, they are applied on the skin’s surface to heal the living tissues after cuts and injuries.


Types of Antiseptics

Antiseptics are commonly used in health care to stop the growth of microbes on mucous membranes and the skin. They are also used in home and public environments to treat minor wounds and to clean hands.


There is a major distinction between the antiseptics used in hospitals and those that are available to the general public.


– Healthcare antiseptics: These products are used by healthcare specialists in settings like nursing homes, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics. They are often used before medical procedures. Healthcare professionals have greater exposure to antiseptics because they use them more often than consumers do.


-Consumer antiseptics: These are typically used in areas places such as schools, daycares, and even in homes. Consumer antiseptics are available in most supermarkets and pharmacies.


Antiseptics are classified according to their chemical composition. They all stop or slow the growth of microbes on your skin. Some types are more suitable for certain uses than others. Some of these include:

  • Ether alcohol and isopropyl alcohol: used to disinfect your skin before needle sticks and in hand sanitizers
  • Halogenated phenol derivative: used in cleaning solutions and medical-grade soaps
  • Chlorhexidine and other diguanides: used before operations
  • Antibacterial dye: used to treat wounds and burns
  • Peroxide and permanganate: used as a mouthwash and to disinfect your skin
  • Quaternary ammonium compound: used as a skin disinfectant


Antiseptics are used for various reasons. Some of the most common uses are:

  • Washing and sanitizing hands
  • Preventing infections in minor wounds
  • Disinfecting skin prior to surgery or any other medical procedure
  • Disinfecting mucous membranes before a medical procedure


The difference between Antiseptics and Disinfectants

Antiseptics and disinfectants are both used to kill microbes, but there’s a difference between Antiseptics and Disinfectants

  • An antiseptic is used to kill microbes on living tissues, whereas disinfectants are applied on non-living objects.
  • The concentration of both is different. It is possible to use the same chemical to serve as a disinfectant as well as an antiseptic by varying its concentration.


For instance, phenol can be used as an antiseptic if the concentration is 0.2 percent, but to use it as a disinfectant, its concentration must be 1 percent.

  • It is generally believed that cleaning products contain disinfectants, and healing products(for treating living tissues) include antiseptics.


Risks of Disinfectants and Antiseptics

It is important to note that the chemicals used in disinfectants and antiseptics are dangerous. If bleach and ammonia are combined, the result is a deadly gas called chloramine. When bleach is combined with an acid, it produces chlorine gas. This is poisonous.

Hydrogen peroxide and bleach can cause an explosion if combined. Long-term exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to an increased risk of developing cancer. Some disinfectants and antiseptics are flammable.


Read and follow the directions to reduce the risk of harm from using disinfectants and antiseptics. This usually includes:

  • Don’t mix different products together.
  • Do not use antiseptics or disinfectants more frequently than recommended.
  • Make sure to use disinfectants in a ventilated area.
  • Put on gloves and wash your hands after using disinfectants.
  • Keep disinfectants and antiseptics out of reach of children.
  • Store chemicals safely.
  • Hand sanitizer should only be used when soap and water are not available.

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See your doctor if you have any symptoms from chemical exposure, such as:

  • Cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Watery eyes
  • Burning eyes
  • Irritation of the throat or nose
  • Runny nose


Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

What are the most common antiseptics?

Chlorhexidine, povidone-iodine, chloroxylenol, isopropyl alcohol, hexachlorophene, benzalkonium chloride and hydrogen peroxide are all often used as antiseptics in dermatologic surgery. They are recommended for most but not all treatments that go into the dermis or deeper layers of the skin.


What is the difference between disinfectants and antiseptics?

Disinfectants and antiseptics are frequently used to control infections. Biocides are chemicals that are used to kill microorganisms like viruses, bacteria and fungi. Germs on non-living surfaces are killed with disinfectants. Antiseptics destroy microorganisms on your skin.


Is bleach a disinfectant or antiseptic?

Bleach is a potent disinfectant. Its primary ingredient is sodium hypochlorite which eliminates fungi, bacteria, and viruses, including the influenza virus, although it quickly becomes inactivated by organic matter. Within 10–60 minutes of contact time, diluted household bleach disinfects.


What is the use of disinfectant?

Disinfectants are chemical substances used on non-living items to kill viruses, bacteria, fungi, mould, and mildew.


Is there any substance that can be used both as an antiseptic and disinfectant?

Yes, Hydrogen peroxide is an example of an antiseptic and disinfectant. It can function as an antiseptic to clean wounds and prevent infection when used in lower concentrations and as a disinfectant to clean surfaces and eliminate harmful microorganisms when used in higher concentrations.