Antiseptics and disinfectants, both qualify as cleaning agents and are widely used not only in hospitals and other health care centers, but also at home. Although these terms have been used in an interchangeable manner, it is important to know that they are quite different. This article provides a comparison between the two.
Point to Consider
Overuse of antibacterial products like antiseptics and disinfectants, is believed to produce strains of multi-antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If the usage is not for a specific medical reason, following proper and good personal and household hygiene (use of ordinary soap, warm water, and plain detergent) always scores over the unnecessary domestic use of such products.
What are Antiseptics?
An antiseptic is a chemical substance that is meant for application on living tissues like the skin, in order to destroy or inhibit the growth of disease-causing microorganisms. It helps reduce the possible risk of infection, sepsis, or disease. Furthermore, it is used in cleaning the skin before an incision is made. It is also used to treat surface cuts or scratches, in order to kill the germs that might have already entered the wound. It is also used as a sanitizer in cases where hand washing is not possible. Antiseptics are commonly found in mouthwashes, treatment creams, etc. Rubbing alcohol, iodine, boric acid, and hydrogen peroxide are some examples.
What are Disinfectants?
A disinfectant is a chemical substance that is meant for application on non-living objects or surfaces in order to destroy or control the growth of microorganisms that live on them. Disinfectants can be toxic and should never be applied on living tissue or the skin. It is commonly used for cleaning homes, countertops, floors, bathrooms, kitchen, surgery rooms, etc. Some of the popular disinfectants are alcohols, household bleach, aldehydes, and oxidizing agents. There are many other disinfectants such as iodine, silver, etc., that are used based on application. It is said that UV light is also considered to be a disinfectant and is used where there should be no wetting of the surface. It is also used in the cases where disinfection is required on a frequent basis. Generally, a disinfectant should sterilize a surface, however, it has been observed in some cases that microorganisms build resistance against them and may even make the condition worse. Due to this, higher concentrations may have to be used.
Note: It has been observed that iodine and some other chemical agents are used as an antiseptic as well as a disinfectant. Categorizing it as an antiseptic or disinfectant would depend on the concentration of the chemical agent being used. That is, weaker solutions of iodine can be used as an antiseptic and stronger concentrations as a disinfectant.
How They Work
Both the anti-microbial agents are known to work in a similar way. Both the agents destroy bacteria and other microorganisms by penetrating the cell wall of an organism, damaging the cell membrane, interrupting with the metabolism, or altering the permeability of the cell wall.
|Place of Application|
|It is applied on living tissues like the skin.||It is applied on non-living objects and surfaces.|
|They inhibit or control the growth of disease-causing microorganisms on living tissues.
||They kill or destroy the microorganisms that live on surfaces and non-living objects.
|Less Toxic and Less Harsh
||Very Toxic and More Harsh
|Not Known to Interact with other Medicines
||May React with other common Household Chemicals
|They are commonly used in mouthwashes, handwashes, eye washes, yeast infection creams, first aid supplies, etc.||They are commonly used in medical and household cleaning products for kitchens, bathrooms, hospital rooms and floors, and other such surfaces where germs are found.|
Considering the aforementioned points of comparison, it is understood that the key difference between these two anti-microbial agents is their place of application. It is necessary to keep this point in mind as disinfectants mistakenly used on a living tissue or skin can have very harmful effects on the same.