Disinfectants are chemical agents designed to inactivate or destroy microorganisms on inert surfaces. Disinfection does not necessarily kill all microorganisms, especially resistant bacterial spores; it is less effective than sterilization, which is an extreme physical or chemical process that kills all types of life. They are generally distinguished from other antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics, which destroy microorganisms within the body, and antiseptics, which destroy microorganisms on living tissue. They are also different from biocides—the latter are intended to destroy all forms of life, not just microorganisms. Disinfectants work by destroying the cell wall of microbes or interfering with their metabolism. It is also a form of decontamination and can be defined as the process whereby physical or chemical methods are used to reduce the number of pathogenic microorganisms on a surface.
Disinfection and sterilization are the two common methods of killing or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. Microbes can cause several diseases in humans and animals. They are also responsible for food spoilage. Therefore, it is beneficial to kill or inhibit their growth to minimize their harmful effects. This is achieved by sterilization or disinfection. However, both these processes are based on different principles.
Types of Disinfectants
- Air disinfectants: It is defined as the chemical substances which are used to kill the microorganisms that are suspended in the air. It can also be called a disinfectant spray.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is used as disinfectants. Ethanol is the most common example in this case. Some other examples of disinfectants are, chlorine when it is in the concentration of 0.2 to 0.4 in aqueous solution and sulfur dioxide, which acts as a disinfectant in small concentrations.
Sanitizers are substances that simultaneously clean and disinfect. They are frequently used in hospitals, dental surgeries, kitchens, and bathrooms to kill infectious organisms. Sanitizers are mild compared to disinfectants and are used majorly to clean things that are in human contact whereas disinfectants are concentrated and are used to clean surfaces like floors and building premises.
Bacterial endospores are most resistant to disinfectants, but some fungi, viruses, and bacteria also possess some resistance. Disinfectants are used to rapidly kill bacteria. They kill off the bacteria by causing the proteins to become damaged and the outer layers of the bacteria cell to rupture. The DNA material subsequently leaks out.