Antiseptic vs. Disinfectant: Learn the Differences

Antiseptics and disinfectants can be exceptionally valuable tools for businesses looking to keep their establishments clean and stop the growth and spread of germs. These substances are similar in purpose but different in use. 

It’s important to know the difference between antiseptic and disinfectant when purchasing cleaning supplies. Here’s what you need to know. 

Antiseptics: The Basics

Antiseptics are commonly used in hospitals and other places where sepsis is a concern. If killing all living microorganisms is key to the health and well-being of all involved, antiseptics are a necessity. 

Before surgery, it is common for all medical personnel who will come into contact with the patient to coat their hands and arms up to the elbows with an orange substance. This orange substance is an antiseptic that kills all the bacteria on the person’s hands and arms and helps protect the patient from infection. 

Antiseptics can come in the form of hand soap, a foam rub, skin applications and other solutions, so they are easily accessible in multiple situations. They are used in labs, hospitals, clinics and any other place in which utmost cleanliness is required. 

Disinfectants: The Basics

Disinfectants, when used correctly, can kill up to 99.9% of all germs on a surface. From counters and sinks to handrails and light switches, disinfectants are used on almost every surface in almost every business. They are often used multiple times a day in any situation in which there is frequent exposure to possible pathogens.

For example, restaurants use disinfectants to clean the kitchen where food is prepared and tables where customers eat to ensure unwanted microorganisms have no chance to grow. Disinfectants can come in the form of surface cleaners that are meant to be wiped off, wipes saturated in cleaner, spray-on cleaners meant to dry naturally and other forms. 

Antiseptics vs. Disinfectants

Although both antiseptics and disinfectants are used to kill germs, antiseptics are only used on skin, and disinfectants are used on surfaces. This can be confusing because many people use the two terms interchangeably, and occasionally, people refer to antiseptics as “skin disinfectants.” 

This difference is especially important to remember when in a hospital or any area where both humans and surfaces require deep cleaning. In these cases, antiseptics are applied to the body and disinfectants are applied to surfaces. Medical personnel use antiseptics and apply them to the patient’s skin where needed and apply disinfectants to clean the operating table and equipment. 

Antiseptics and disinfectants often contain some of the same ingredients, but these ingredients will be present in different concentrations. For example, hydrogen peroxide is commonly found in both antiseptics and disinfectants, but antiseptics contain a much lower concentration because of the sensitive nature of skin compared to surfaces. 

Uses for Antiseptics 

Antiseptics are important in medical settings. They are applied directly to bare skin or mucous membranes. 

In hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and labs, antiseptics are used in the following situations:

  • To prepare skin for a piercing, incision, or operation: Whenever skin will be pierced in a piercing parlor or in preparation for surgery or the application of stitches, an antiseptic will be applied heavily and allowed to air dry. If anything is used to wipe away the antiseptic, the area will be contaminated again. If the antiseptic is not allowed to dry, it can sting when the needle or other tool is used to pierce the area and introduces the antiseptic into the wound or pierced skin. 

  • To wash hands prior to dealing with an open wound: Whether the person is helping themselves or someone else, it is important to wash hands carefully and then apply an antiseptic to the skin. Again, it is important to allow the antiseptic to air dry to avoid recontamination. Because time may be of the essence, an antiseptic hand rub may be used in some cases because it dries quickly. 

  • To clean mucous membranes: Antiseptics are applied not only to skin but also to delicate skin called mucous membranes that may similarly require sanitizing prior to a procedure or disinfection. For example, the urethra and the inside of the nose are mucous membranes.

  • To address an infection in the throat: The throat is lined with mucous membranes, but the usual antiseptics do not fare well in the mouth because of their strong taste. In these cases, especially when there is an infection in the throat, there are throat lozenges that contain antiseptics. 

  • To address potential or actual skin infection: When there are small cuts and scrapes that are susceptible to infection but not severe enough to require a trip to the doctor, it is advisable to apply an over-the-counter antiseptic like hydrogen peroxide to keep the wound clean. 

Uses for Disinfectants 

Disinfectants are used only on surfaces. There are several different kinds, strengths and forms of disinfectants.

Industrial-strength or medical-grade disinfectants are incredibly strong. These are often used in situations where health is a concern or in restaurants where food pathogens are a risk. There are also disinfectants that are more appropriate for situations that require light cleaning. 

Even the disinfectants that state they can kill up to 99.9% of germs also note that they need to be allowed to air dry on the surface for up to 10 minutes, depending on the product. Most will include directions — be sure to follow them if high-level disinfection is a concern, such as when cleaning a bathroom. 

Do You Need Antiseptics or Disinfectants at Your Business?

If you are not sure what products will best serve your business, contact Alsco today. We can discuss the nature of your industry and set up a plan to make sure you always have what you need when you need it. Call now.

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