Antiseptic and Disinfectant

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What is Antiseptic?

An antiseptic refers to a substance which either stops or helps in slowing down the growth of the microorganisms. They are generally used in hospitals and several other medical settings for reducing the risk of any kind of infection during surgical treatments and other procedures.


A disinfectant, on the other hand, is an antimicrobial agent. However, it is not necessary that a disinfectant would help in killing the microorganisms. It is not as effective when compared to the process of sterilization.


The process of sterilization tends to kill all kinds of living organisms, but a disinfectant, on the other hand, tends to kill only a certain kind of microbes. It is usually applied to the floors or even to a drainage system. The most used cleaning products that are used in our homes and offices are all disinfectants.


Both antiseptics and disinfectants have wide usage in the hospitals and many other health care settings for a wide variety of both topical and hard-surface applications. A variety of active chemical agents called biocides are often found in these products. Many of these have also been used for several hundreds of years, which includes alcohols, iodine, phenols, and chlorine. Most of these active agents tend to demonstrate a broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity; however, not much is known about their mode of action when compared to antibiotics.


In this article, we will discuss what is antiseptic, the disinfectant meaning, antiseptic definition, the antiseptic and disinfectant difference, and the examples of antiseptic and disinfectant.


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Types of Antiseptics

Some of the antiseptics have a germicidal nature, which means that they can destroy the microbes. These kinds of antiseptics are called bacteriocidal antiseptics. Other antiseptics only tend to inhibit the growth of microbes or prevent microbial growth altogether.  Such kinds of substances are generally known as bacteriostatic antiseptics.


Uses of Antiseptics

Antiseptics have a wide range of uses both in and out of many medical settings. In both the settings, they are applied either to the skin or onto the mucous membranes.


The uses of antiseptics include the following:

  1. Hand Washing: Medical professionals tend to use antiseptics in the form of hand scrubs and rubs throughout their hospitals.

  2. Disinfecting the Mucous Membranes: Antiseptics can also be applied to the bladder, urethra, or vagina for cleaning the area before a catheter is inserted. They also tend to help for treating any kind of infection in these areas.

  3. Cleaning of Skin Before any Kind of Operation: Antiseptics are to be applied onto the skin before surgery to give protection against any kind of harmful microorganisms which might be present on the skin.

  4. Treatment of Skin Infections: OTC antiseptics are used to reduce any risk of infection in burns, minor cuts, and wounds. Examples of these are rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.

  5. Treatment of Several Throat and Mouth Infections: Some of the throat lozenges consist of antiseptics that help with the sore throats because of a bacterial infection.

Disinfectant Examples

Some common examples of disinfectants are as follows:

  1. Air Disinfectants: It is known as the chemical substances that are used in killing the microorganisms which are suspended in the air. It is also referred to as a disinfectant spray.

  2. Alcohol: It is often seen that many kinds of alcohol are used in the form of disinfectants. Ethanol is one of the most common examples in this case. Some of the other examples of disinfectants include chlorine in 0.2 - 0.4 concentration in aqueous solution and sulphur dioxide, which tends to act as a disinfectant in smaller concentrations.

Difference Between Disinfectant and Antiseptic

Both the disinfectants and antiseptics are used to kill the microorganisms, however, there is still a difference between them. Let us take a look at antiseptic vs disinfectant.


An antiseptic is an agent which is used to kill the microorganisms that are present on the living tissues whereas, on the other hand, a disinfectant is applied only on a non-living object.


Secondly, there is a difference between the concentration of both. We can use the same kind of chemical, both as a disinfectant and an antiseptic, just by changing the concentration.


Consider, for example, phenol is used in the form of an antiseptic when its concentration is 0.2 per cent, however, for using it in the form of a disinfectant, the concentration has to be 1 percent.


We can hence conclude that the cleaning products that we use tend to contain disinfectants and the different healing products to cure the living tissues tend to contain antiseptics.


Both antiseptics and disinfectants are similar but they tend to vary in their concentration. Lysol is an example of a disinfectant whereas Dettol is a type of antiseptic.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. How Does a Disinfectant Destroy the Micro-Organisms?

Ans: A disinfectant is a type of antimicrobial agent. A disinfectant would not kill all the microorganisms since it is not as effective when compared to sterilization. The sterilization process tends to kill all kinds of living organisms, however, a disinfectant tends to kill only specific kinds of microorganisms. It is usually applied onto a floor or drainage system. Most of the cleaning products used in our offices and homes are disinfectants.

2. What are Antimicrobial Agents?

Ans: An antimicrobial is a kind of an agent which tends to kill microorganisms or inhibits their growth. Antimicrobial medicines are divided based on their action against the microorganisms. An example is that antibiotics are used against the action of bacteria and antifungal medicines are used for treating fungal infections. They are also classified based on their functions. Agents which kill the microorganisms are microbicidal, whereas, on the other hand, the ones that prevent their growth are known as biostatic.