What are the examples of disinfectants

DisinfectantsDisinfectants are substances that are effective against microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and parasites as well as viruses. They are used for the prevention and also for the treatment of infectious diseases. Well-known representatives are, for example, ethanol, propanol, povidione iodine, octenidine and chlorhexidine. Disinfectants differ in their spectrum of activity and the exposure time. Not all are active against all pathogens. Possible adverse effects include local skin reactions, delayed wound healing and allergic reactions.

synonymous: antiseptics, disinfectants


Disinfectants are available in the form of sprays, solutions, gels, soaps and soaked swabs, among other things. A distinction can be made between products that are intended for use on humans (skin, mucous membrane) and those that are intended for objects and surfaces. In addition to medical products, drugs are also approved. These include lozenges, mouthwashes, eye drops, mouth sprays, ointments and vaginal tablets.

Structure and properties

Disinfectants can be classified according to their chemical structure. For example, a distinction is made between alcohols, quaternary ammonium compounds, iodine compounds and phenols (see below, section active ingredients).


Disinfectants have antiseptic (disinfecting) properties, i.e. they are effective against pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Among other things, they have bactericidal, virucidal, fungicidal and sporocidal effects. It is crucial to know the spectrum of activity, because not all disinfectants kill all organisms. For example, not all disinfectants are active against noroviruses and bacterial spores can be resistant.

In contrast to antibiotics, which interact selectively with a molecular target structure of the pathogen, the disinfectants exert their effects relatively unspecifically, for example by disrupting the function of the cell membrane, denaturing proteins, forming free radicals or by oxidation.

application areas

Disinfectants are used on the one hand for prevention, but on the other hand also for the treatment of infectious diseases.


According to the instructions for use and the package insert. Disinfectants are administered topically rather than systemically.

When using it, care must be taken to allow sufficient exposure time. If this is not achieved, the effectiveness cannot be guaranteed. For example, 30 seconds is recommended for hand disinfection. For certain viruses, depending on the substance, an exposure time of several minutes is required. After the application, the exposure time must be waited for.

For general hand hygiene and to avoid the transmission of disease, preference is given to washing hands with soap. Alcohol-based disinfectants are recommended as the second choice.

Active ingredients (selection)




Boron compounds:

Chemical elements:

Quinoline derivatives:

Chlorine compounds:


Guanidine derivatives, biguanides:

Iodine compounds:

N heterocycles:

Organic acids:

Oxidizing agent:

Phenols and derivatives:

Quaternary ammonium compounds:

Oxygen connections:

Note: Mercury and its compounds are poisonous and are rarely used today.


Contraindications include (selection):

  • Hypersensitivity
  • Medical care is required for large, heavily soiled and deep wounds, as well as bite and stab wounds.
  • Oral therapy
  • Use in the ear canal and in the eye

The complete precautionary measures can be found in the medicinal product information sheet.


Disinfectants can be incompatible with drugs, soaps, pus, and other disinfectants.

unwanted effects

Repeated use of disinfectants can irritate the skin and lead to dry skin, redness, eczema, contact dermatitis and skin cracks. That is why skin care substances are added to them.

Some disinfectants have allergenic properties and can cause allergic reactions.

They can slow wound healing and should be used sparingly for wound treatment

After all, many disinfectants are harmful to the environment.

see also

Infectious diseases, antibiotics, hand disinfectant gels, soaps

  • Medicinal product information (CH)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Instructions for use (CH)
  • Pharmacotherapy textbooks
  • McDonnell G., Russell A.D. Antiseptics and disinfectants: activity, action, and resistance. Clin Microbiol Rev, 1999, 12 (1), 147-79 Pubmed
  • Weber D.J., Rutala W.A., Sickbert-Bennett E.E. Outbreaks associated with contaminated antiseptics and disinfectants. Antimicrob Agents Chemother, 2007, 51 (12), 4217-24 Pubmed

Conflicts of Interest: None / Independent. The author has no relationships with the manufacturers and is not involved in the sale of the products mentioned.

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This article was last changed on January 31, 2021.
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