agra,ahmedabad,ajmer,akola,aligarh,ambala,amravati,amritsar,aurangabad,ayodhya,bangalore,bareilly,bathinda,bhagalpur,bhilai,bhiwani,bhopal,bhubaneswar,bikaner,bilaspur,bokaro,chandigarh,chennai,coimbatore,cuttack,dehradun,delhi ncr,dhanbad,dibrugarh,durgapur,faridabad,ferozpur,gandhinagar,gaya,ghaziabad,goa,gorakhpur,greater noida,gurugram,guwahati,gwalior,haldwani,haridwar,hisar,hyderabad,indore,jabalpur,jaipur,jalandhar,jammu,jamshedpur,jhansi,jodhpur,jorhat,kaithal,kanpur,karimnagar,karnal,kashipur,khammam,kharagpur,kochi,kolhapur,kolkata,kota,kottayam,kozhikode,kurnool,kurukshetra,latur,lucknow,ludhiana,madurai,mangaluru,mathura,meerut,moradabad,mumbai,muzaffarpur,mysore,nagpur,nanded,narnaul,nashik,nellore,noida,palwal,panchkula,panipat,pathankot,patiala,patna,prayagraj,puducherry,pune,raipur,rajahmundry,ranchi,rewa,rewari,rohtak,rudrapur,saharanpur,salem,secunderabad,silchar,siliguri,sirsa,solapur,sri-ganganagar,srinagar,surat,thrissur,tinsukia,tiruchirapalli,tirupati,trivandrum,udaipur,udhampur,ujjain,vadodara,vapi,varanasi,vellore,vijayawada,visakhapatnam,warangal,yamuna-nagar

Difference between Antiseptics and Disinfectants - Introduction, Types, Mechanism of Action, Difference Between Antiseptics and Disinfectants, Practice Problems, FAQs

Difference between Antiseptics and Disinfectants - Introduction, Types, Mechanism of Action, Difference Between Antiseptics and Disinfectants, Practice Problems, FAQs


While watching television or surfing the internet, you must have seen a lot of advertisements related to different products and services. What did you notice most during the famous pandemic COVID-19?

Most of you will answer that, there were a lot of advertisements going on television related to such awareness. You must have seen actors performing advertisements based on cleansing solutions using different brands like Dettol, Lisol and much more, these are disinfectants whereas you have seen some advertisements of creams like boro plus, Burnols etc are used to clean germs and prevents infection and is effective for treating wounds and grazes. Cleanliness is a major part of self-awareness.

Practice proper hygiene if you want to stay healthy. It is crucial to follow healthy lifestyle habits and practice disease prevention. Additionally, the cleanliness of our environment is crucial. Maintaining cleanliness helps you stay healthy and prevent disease.

In hospitals and other health care facilities, antiseptics and disinfectants are widely utilized for a variety of topical and hard-surface applications.

Let's study and understand these important concepts of antiseptic and disinfectants and will figure out the major difference between them.


  • What is an Antiseptic?
  • Types of Antiseptics
  • What is a Disinfectant?
  • Types of Disinfectants
  • Mechanism of Action
  • Difference between Antiseptic and disinfectant
  • Practice Problems
  • Frequently based questions-FAQs

What is an Antiseptic?

An antiseptic is a chemical that inhibits or retards microbial growth. To lower the danger of infection during surgery and other treatments, they are routinely employed in hospitals and other medical settings.

These are antimicrobial substances that can be used to prevent the growth of bacteria in the bodies of living things.

If you've ever seen a surgeon performing any kind of surgery, you've probably seen them rubbing their hands and arms with something that is yellowish in colour. This is an antiseptic.

In medical contexts, a variety of antiseptics are employed. These consist of skin preparations, hand cleansers, and hand rubs. Some can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) for usage at home.

Below are a few examples of Antiseptics and their structures.

Types of Antiseptics:

Because of their many applications, antiseptics are frequently used in healthcare. They are significant in typical households as well, though. There are primarily two different types of antiseptics. As follows:

  • Healthcare antiseptics

These items can be found at hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and other health care facilities and are widely utilized in a variety of medical procedures.

  • Consumer Antiseptics

These can be found simply in grocery stores or pharmacies and are accessible in typical homes, schools, or daycare facilities for general reasons.

Some other types are also studied, these include,

  • Antibacterial dye:Lawson from henna, Juglone from walnut, and Lapachol from alkanet, turmeric among others, are sources of plant dyes rich in naphthoquinone that are said to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. These aid in the healing of burns and wounds.

  • Chlorhexidine and other biguanides: The most well-known antiseptic in the biguanide group is chlorhexidine. Although it doesn't work on spores, it has strong antibacterial activity against the majority of gram-positive and some gram-negative bacteria.

These are employed for both bladder irrigation and open wounds.

  • Permanganate and peroxide:

These are frequently used on exposed wounds and in antiseptic mouthwashes.

  • Halogenated phenol derivative:

This is a component of medical-grade soaps and cleaning products.

What is a disinfectant?

An antimicrobial agent that can be applied to the surface of some objects in order to eradicate the bacteria living there is known as a disinfectant. In order to kill bacteria, disinfectants either break down their cell walls or disrupt their metabolism. It is also a type of decontamination and is the process of reducing the number of pathogenic germs on a surface using physical or chemical means.

Types of disinfectants:

There are several different kinds of disinfectants, including those for air disinfectants, copper alloy surfaces, alcohols, aldehydes, oxidizing agents, phenolic compounds, and many more. We will discuss a few of them in detail.

Air disinfectants:

Chemical compounds that may kill airborne bacteria are commonly used as air disinfectants. In 1928 study discovered that bleach mists might effectively kill airborne germs. In order to effectively reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria that are still viable, an air disinfectant must be disseminated in the air either as an aerosol or vapor at a high enough concentration.

Alcohol Disinfectants:

Alcohols, typically ethanol or isopropanol, are occasionally employed as disinfectants but more frequently as antiseptics. The difference is that alcohol is typically applied to live tissue as opposed to non living surfaces. Although these alcohols are non-corrosive, they pose a fire risk. Due to their low residual activity and short contact durations, until the surface is submerged, they also evaporate quickly. In the presence of organic material, they only engage in a limited amount of activity.

Oxidizing Disinfectants:

Microorganisms' cell membranes are oxidized by oxidizing chemicals, which causes a loss of structure, cell lysis, and death. Numerous disinfectants function in this fashion. Because chlorine and oxygen are powerful oxidizers, their compounds play a significant role in this.

Some household disinfectants use phenols as active components. Additionally, several types of mouthwash, hand washes, and disinfecting soap contain them.

Mechanism of Action:

Understanding the processes by which antiseptics and disinfectants work to kill bacteria has come a long way.

There is probably a consistent series of events, regardless of the type of microbial cell (or entity). This can be thought of as the antiseptic or disinfectant interacting with the cell surface, then penetrating the cell and acting at the target spot (s). The characteristics and make-up of the surface differ from one type of cell (or entity) to another, but they can also change as a result of environmental changes. Although interactions at the cell surface, such as those with glutaraldehyde, can have a considerable impact on viability, it appears that the majority of antimicrobial drugs are active intracellularly. Thus, the microbial cells' susceptibility (or lack thereof) to antiseptics and disinfectants can be significantly influenced by the outermost layers of those cells.


The table below shows some of the mechanisms of antibacterial action of Antiseptics and Disinfectants:


Antiseptic or disinfectants

Mechanism of action

Cytoplasmic (inner) membrane


Leakage; some cause uncoupling

Cell envelope (cell wall, outer membrane)


Cross-linking of proteins

Oxidizing agents


Oxidation of thiol groups to disulfides, sulfoxides, or disulfoxides

Difference between Antiseptic and disinfectant:

Although both disinfectants and antiseptics are used to destroy microorganisms, they nonetheless differ from one another.

  • A disinfectant is applied to a non-living material generally while an antiseptic is used to destroy microorganisms on living tissues.
  • The concentration of both also varies. By changing its concentration, the same chemical can be used as both an antiseptic and a disinfectant.
  • For instance, phenol can be used as an antiseptic at a concentration of 0.2%, but at a concentration of 1%, it can be used as a disinfectant.

Practice Problems:

1. Which of the following can act as an antiseptic's active ingredient?

A. Iodine
B. Phenol
C. Alcohol
D. All of the above

Answer: (D)
For hundreds of years, antiseptics have contained the active chemical agents (biocides) alcohols, phenols, and iodine. The majority of them have wide-ranging antibacterial action. Bacteria may not be killed by these substances, but they can limit their growth.

2. Which of the following is applied to the surgical site before cleaning it with an antibacterial cleanser?

A. Metformin
B. Mebendazole
C. Chlorhexidine
D. Atenolol

Answer: (C)|
A powerful and adaptable antibacterial agent, chlorhexidine is utilized for both infection control and prevention. Before surgery or catheter implantation, skin cleaning with chlorhexidine is fairly usual.

3. What is the method by which antiseptic substances manifest their effects?

A. Enzyme inhibition
B. Cell wall destruction
C. Damage to the DNA
D. All of the above

Answer: (D)
Antimicrobial substances kill microorganisms through one or more pathways and are effective against a wide variety of bacteria, yeast, and moulds. Triclosan and chlorhexidine destroy cell membranes, while hydrogen peroxide damages DNA and renders enzymes inactive. The majority of antimicrobials work through three main pathways: damage to DNA, inhibition of enzymes, and cell wall breakdown.

4. Which of the following is resistant to compounds containing alcohol?

A. Virus
B. Spores
C. Fungi
D. Bacteria

Answer: (B)
The spores, which are resilient cells of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi, are not destroyed by alcohol. Alcohols are frequently used for both hard-surface disinfection and skin antisepsis but are not employed for sterilization since they do not exhibit sporicidal activity.

Frequently asked questions-FAQs:

1. Infections in wounds can be treated with honey. Does it qualify as antiseptic?
An enzyme found in honey helps to create hydrogen peroxide, an antibacterial. Against more than 50 different bacterial species, honey is effective. Use only medical-grade honey, it is urged, as non-medical honey may contain living spores that can produce germs and have unpredictable antibacterial activity.

2. What degree of harm can be caused by the side effects of antiseptics?
Some topical antiseptics can have modest adverse effects, however nothing serious. For instance, it has been observed that silver sulfadiazine can produce erythema, or skin redness, whereas chlorhexidine might irritate and itch the skin. You must inform your doctor if you experience any skin rashes, allergies, or other negative effects after using an antiseptic.

3. We disinfect wastewater. What is the main reason behind this?
Disinfecting drinking water and wastewater offers some degree of protection from coming into touch with harmful organisms, such as those that cause cholera, polio, typhoid, hepatitis, and a number of other bacterial, viral, and parasite diseases.

4. What techniques are employed in disinfection?
The four main techniques for disinfection are chlorination, ozone, UV light, and chloramines. Chlorine dioxide, photocatalytic disinfection, nanofiltration, and potassium permanganate are further options. Water inherently contains organic stuff.

Related topics:

Enzymes as drug target

Chemicals in food

Receptor as drug targets



Cleansing agent-detergent

Talk to Our Expert Request Call Back
Resend OTP Timer =
By submitting up, I agree to receive all the Whatsapp communication on my registered number and Aakash terms and conditions and privacy policy