Types of Disinfectants: How to pick the best?

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What are disinfectants?

The Merriam-Webster defines a disinfectant as an “agent that frees from infection (which could be in either form – gas or liquid.)” A disinfectant is used to get rid of germs and potent bacteria from one’s surroundings to keep away from allergies and diseases. It is a rather strong chemical combination that gets you a guaranteed 100% rid of toxic microorganisms. It is usually used in more serious mess situations like hospitals and hazardous environments.

However, in times of the pandemic where disinfection has become a way of saving lives and and in order to keep oneself protected against the corona-virus, it is frequently being used in households and workplaces to clean high-touch areas like doorknobs, handrails, light switches, faucets etc.

The CDC advises on using disinfectants with over 60% alcohol content for best results. They are usually altered specifically according to the bacteria/fungi they intend to kill.

How do Disinfectants Work?

Our war against microbes is one that is essentially being fought against an invisible army. Disinfectant solutions are our best weapons in fighting this war and emerging victorious. These are chemical agents that are applied to surfaces and non-living objects with the aim of killing all the viruses, bacteria, fungi etc. that could prove to be potentially
toxic. If not dealt with adequately, these may cause serious infections or diseases. The ‘active ingredient’ in a disinfectant is what’s responsible for killing the pathogens, typically by damaging or disrupting their cells.

Types of disinfectants, categorically stated:

  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats): These are low cost disinfectants that ensure quick action against a large variety of microorganisms. It possesses both, cleaning and disinfecting properties with the ability to kill several common and dangerous viruses and bacteria.
  • Chlorine compounds: These are usually applied to disinfect surroundings with bodily fluids and resistant viruses. Chlorine based disinfectants are generally inexpensive and take relatively less time to show effects. However, these can be corrosive and also cause discoloration and irritation if directions are not properly followed.
  • Alcohols: Alcohol, when diluted in water, is usually very effective in fighting with a wide array of bacteria. Although high effectiveness is directly related to higher concentrations of alcohol, they usually entail a few disadvantages like quick evaporation, flammability and are usually ineffective against organic matter (blood, for instance.)
  • Aldehydes: These are usually very effective against Tuberculosis causing bacteria. Ironically, there have been reported cases of asthma caused due to aldehyde based disinfectants.

This begs the question – What to consider when choosing your disinfectant?

This question needs to be answered to spread awareness on why investing in a disinfectant that exhibits effectiveness only against a limited spectrum of virus and bacteria is a rather foolish decision. So how can you make the correct choice? The most important factor to consider would be the spectrum of microbicidal efficacy of a
disinfectant.

An ideal disinfectant possesses a broad ‘antimicrobial effectiveness’ i.e. the ability to kill and prevent the transmission of a large variety of bacteria, fungi and other germs (including potentially resistant strains) from the environment into a human.

There are 4 other major filters for choosing the most effective disinfectant:

  • Effectiveness – The effectiveness of a disinfectant depends on its ability to kill pathogens and microbes that are a top priority concern in one’s surroundings. The coronavirus, for instance, is a top priority in 2020. Using disinfectants that do not have the capability to disrupt the coronavirus pathogen’s strand would prove to be a waste of money and effort. It is advisable to read the ingredients before buying the product.
  • Kill Time – The second important thing to consider is the ‘kill time’ of a certain disinfectant i.e. the time it takes to become effective and kill a particular pathogen. It is also essential that the surface is wet with the disinfectant the entire time (time mentioned on the label) for it to be actively functional. Having a longer kill time usually proves to be inconvenient as the surface needs to be left wet for a longer period. Therefore, an ideal disinfectant will offer rapid and realistic contact times.
  • Safety – A very significant factor to consider while purchasing a disinfectant is whether it is safe to use around humans.
      • It should preferably be non-corrosive and non-detrimental to the surfaces it is applied
      • Should neither leave a stain nor an undesirable odour
      • Should not be extremely flammable
      • Should have no harmful side effects on human health.
  • Ease of Use – The label should clearly instruct on the steps to be taken while using the disinfectant along with the precautions. It should be capable of killing a wide range of bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. It should ideally be ready-to-use and easily spray-able/applicable to the surfaces intended for cleansing.

In conclusion, it could take a little while before you end up hitting the jackpot in your search for a product suitable for your facility, but it is critical that an informed and well-researched decision is made for best results. Along with the correct disinfectant, one must also formulate a solid plan to prevent diseases and infections by taking necessary precautions.

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