Ways to Kill Bacteria

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Ways to Kill Bacteria
Many household products like bleach are effective for killing bacteria. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Pneumonia was among the 15 leading causes of death in the United States in 2006, according to the School Network for Absenteeism Prevention. This ailment, as well as many others, results from exposure to bacteria. Household surfaces, hospitals, pools and our hands all harbour harmful bacteria. The only way to prevent the spread of serious illnesses is to use various methods such as household cleaners, natural alternatives, ultraviolet rays and antibacterial soap to sanitise these areas.

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Several different methods exist for killing bacteria including sterilisation, disinfection and sanitation. According to Michigan State University, disinfection is the process of reducing the number of harmful microbes on a surface to a safer level. Disinfection uses antimicrobial agents on nonliving objects or surfaces to destroy microorganisms. However, disinfectants may not kill all bacteria, viruses, fungi and spores. Sanitation, a method that uses stronger chemicals, is similar to disinfection, but eliminates more bacteria. However, sanitising does not affect some spores and viruses. A practical method of sanitising hands is to wash them with soap under running hot water for at least 20 seconds. Neither of these methods completely wipes out the bacteria population on a surface -- they simply reduce it, leaving some microbes behind. Sterilisation, the most effective method, kills all microbes, including spores in an area or on a surface. Sterilisation involves using methods such as strong acids, dry heat and gamma rays.

Household Cleaners

Many household cleaners, such as bleach, dish washing detergent and Lysol, kill bacteria by sanitising an area. They include certain ingredients that work well for these tasks, such as sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide. Bleach is one type of sanitising chemical composed of sodium hypochlorite. "Mr. Clean," a cleaning brand that combines a degreasing agent with an antibacterial solution, is an example of a sanitising compound made with sodium hydroxide.

Ultraviolet Light

Made of magnetic and electric waves, ultraviolet light creates electromagnetic radiation, which becomes small bundles of energy when it disperses. These small energy units release an electric charge when they touch a surface, killing any microbes present. As a result, ultraviolet light is an effective sterilisation method in many situations. Many pool cleaning systems employ ultraviolet light to reduce the bacterial population in pool water. Also, hospitals use ultraviolet light to sterilise tools and surfaces, as well as the air. However, because ultraviolet rays may not reach bacteria hidden in crevices, hospitals use it in combination with other sterilisation methods.

Hygienic Products

Bacteria lives in and on various areas of your body, including your mouth, nose and hands. Hygienic products, such as toothpaste, mouthwash, hand sanitiser and deodorant are disinfectants that aid in reducing the amount of harmful microbes that inhabit our bodies. Many of these products include phenolics, plant- or coal tar-based disinfectants. "Listerine" mouthwash is an example of a solution containing phenolics. Triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps, hand sanitisers and toothpastes, is another disinfecting agent.

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