Common Hospital Disinfectants

Updated April 17, 2017

Hospital-grade disinfectants kill microorganisms and germs (pathogens) in hospitals, medical facilities and on medical equipment. Registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, these types of disinfectants keep wounds and burns from infection. Disinfection rids dangerous pathogens from floors, walls, toilet seats and medical device surfaces including wheelchairs, bed linings and railings. By killing bacteria, fungi and viruses on scalpels and intravenous feeding poles, common hospital disinfectants control the health of facilities.


Three examples of the phenolic coal-tar derivative type of disinfectants include benzyl-4-chlorophenol, amylphenol and phenylphenol. Ridding surfaces of dangerous organisms, except for spore-based forms, these clear compounds turn milky when diluted with water and disinfect within an hour of contact. Dirt-coated pathogens do not break down the effectiveness of this sterilizer.


More active in warm water than cold, halogen disinfectants include hypochlorites and both ethanol and isopropanol bleach. Inexpensive but efficient chlorine compounds, these antibacterials work best on thoroughly sanitised surfaces since dirt deactivates its antiseptic characteristics. Ethanol-type halogen performs well as a skin disinfectant and cleans blood from equipment. However, certain halogens produces skin irritation with unprotected contact.


Used as a high-level disinfectant, the colourless liquid aldehyde called glutaraldehyde sterilises visual medical instruments--such as equipment used for examining body canals or hollow appendages such as the colon, bladder, bronchia or stomach--by eliminating spore bearing fungus and mould. This antibacterial cleaner ignites health issues with prolonged exposure, resulting in EPA strict standards for handling and storing.

Quaternary Amines

Generally odourless, non-irritating quaternary amines (ammonium) compounds--such as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium--work well with maximum dilution for sterilising surface areas against bacteria. Certain types of quatenary ammonium mixtures lose germicidal effectiveness when in contact with organic matter, hard water and some detergents. This requires pre-cleaning surfaces before disinfecting with these types ammonium.

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About the Author

Catalina Bixler's journalism career began in 1970. After five years as a publishing teacher, Bixler then published/edited NATO's U.S. 5th Army and 17th AF "Wiesbaden Post" newspaper. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in bilingual-journalism/community development from Redlands University, and a Master of Arts in adult education/training from the University of Phoenix.