Types of Disinfectants: How to Make the Best Choice for You

Disinfectants are chemicals that are used to reduce or eliminate the number of pathogens, like viruses, protozoa, fungi, and bacteria, on objects or surfaces. They are an essential part of our daily lives, and their use has become more important due to the rise of new viruses and diseases. Disinfectants come in various forms, such as liquids, wipes, and sprays, and are used in many settings like schools, hospitals, homes, and workplaces. In this article, we’ll look at the various types of disinfectants, their uses, and how to use them effectively.

Types of Disinfectants

There are different types of disinfectants, and they work in different ways to kill pathogens.

Let’s explore each of these disinfectants and their uses in more detail:

  1. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs): QACs are widely used disinfectants in healthcare facilities, food processing plants, and other industries. They’re effective against various microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. QACs function by disrupting the cell membranes of the microorganisms, leading to their death.

One of the benefits of QACs is their residual activity. They remain on the surface after application, providing long-lasting protection against microorganisms. They are widely used to clean walls, floors, and other surfaces in clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.

However, it is crucial to remember that some microorganisms can develop resistance to QACs with time, making them less effective. Therefore, it is recommended to mix QAC-based disinfectants with other disinfectants to prevent the development of resistance.

  1. Chlorine Compounds: Chlorine compounds are commonly used as disinfectants due to their broad spectrum activity against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. They function by oxidizing the cell membranes of microorganisms that cause their death. Chlorine-based disinfectants are typically used to disinfect water in swimming pools and also in the food and beverage industry to disinfect food contact surfaces and equipment.

Chlorine is a powerful disinfectant, but it can also be dangerous for humans if not used properly. Excessive exposure to chlorine can cause irritation to the eyes and skin, respiratory issues, and other health problems. So, it is crucial to follow safety guidelines when using chlorine-based disinfectants.

  1. Alcohols – Alcohols work against a broad range of microorganisms, including viruses and bacteria. They act by denaturing the proteins in the cell membrane of the microorganisms, leading to their death. Alcohols are often used in hand sanitizers, surface disinfectants, and as a skin antiseptic in healthcare facilities.

One of the benefits of alcohol is its rapid action. They can kill microorganisms within seconds of application. But, they aren’t effective against spores and some viruses, such as norovirus.

  1. Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a potent antioxidant that can be effective against various microorganisms like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. It works by producing reactive oxygen compounds that damage the cell membranes of the microorganisms and causes their death.

Hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectants are used in hospitals and in the food and beverage industry to disinfect food contact surfaces and equipment. One of the benefits of hydrogen peroxide is that it breaks down into oxygen and water, making it environmentally friendly.

But, hydrogen peroxide can irritate eyes and skin and can also be harmful if consumed or inhaled in large amounts. Therefore, it is crucial to follow the safety guidelines when using hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectants.

Other Types of Disinfectants

In addition to the disinfectants mentioned above, there are many other types of disinfectants available, each with its own distinct properties and mechanisms of action. Some of these include:

  • Phenolic compounds- Effective against various microorganisms and commonly used in hospitals and food processing plants.
  • Peracetic acid- A powerful disinfectant that is environmentally friendly and is widely used in the food and beverage industry.
  • Formaldehyde-A disinfectant that can be effective against a variety of microorganisms. But, it’s also highly toxic and carcinogenic and should only be used in specialized settings.
  • Glutaraldehyde- An effective disinfectant that is commonly used in healthcare facilities to disinfect medical equipment.

Uses of Disinfectants

Disinfectants are used in a variety of settings to eliminate or limit the spread of pathogens. Here are a few of the most common uses of disinfectants:

  1. Healthcare settings- Disinfectants are vital in healthcare settings like clinics and hospitals. They help to eliminate pathogens on equipment, surfaces, and instruments to prevent the spread of infections.
  2. Home – Disinfectants are typically used in homes to remove pathogens from surfaces and objects like doorknobs, countertops, and toilets. This is crucial, especially during the flu season or when someone in the household is sick.
  3. Schools-Disinfectants are used in schools to eliminate pathogens that are present on surfaces like desks, doorknobs, and lockers. This can help prevent the spread of infections among staff members and students.
  4. Workplaces-Disinfectants are used in workplaces to remove pathogens from surfaces such as keyboards, phones, and door handles. This prevents the spread of diseases among employees.

How to Use Disinfectants Effectively

Using disinfectants properly is crucial to ensure that they’re able to eliminate or reduce the number of pathogens on surfaces and other objects. Here are some tips on how to use disinfectants effectively:

  1. Read the Label: Before using a disinfectant, it is essential to read the label in order to determine if it’s effective against the specific pathogen that you’re trying to eliminate. The label will also provide directions on how to use the disinfectant effectively.
  2. Use the right amount: Using the right quantity of disinfectant is crucial to ensure that it’s effective. Most disinfectants require a particular quantity to be applied on the surface to be effective. Applying too little disinfectant may not be enough to eliminate all pathogens while using too much can be wasteful and may damage surfaces.
  3. Use Proper Dilution: Some disinfectants require dilution before use. It is essential to follow the instructions for dilution to ensure the disinfectant’s effectiveness.
  4. Wear gloves: Some disinfectants can be harmful if they come into contact with your skin. It is essential to wear gloves when using disinfectants to protect your skin.
  5. Allow sufficient contact time: Disinfectants require sufficient contact time with the object or surface in order to be effective. The label will provide instructions regarding how long the disinfectant needs to be in contact with the surface.
  6. Proper storage: Disinfectants should be kept in a dry, cool place away from direct sunlight. Also, they should be kept out of reach of children and pets.
  7. Dispose of used disinfectant: Used disinfectants should be disposed of properly. Some disinfectants can be dangerous waste and must be disposed of according to local regulations.


Disinfectants are vital for eliminating or reducing the number of pathogens on surfaces and other objects. There are a variety of disinfectants that work in various ways to remove pathogens. They are used in settings like hospitals, homes, schools, and workplaces. Using disinfectants properly is crucial to ensure they are able to eliminate or reduce the number of pathogens.