Although it is tempting to believe they perform the same function, cleaning products and disinfecting products actually operate differently. Disinfectants do not work properly when they encounter organic materials, like dirt. The dirt becomes a barrier between the disinfectant and the organism you wish to kill. To use disinfectants properly, you should always clean before you disinfect to ensure that the disinfectant has as much contact as possible with the pathogens you are trying to eliminate.
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Phenols have a distinctive scent of pine tar and when they are added to water they turn it cloudy. Phenols have antibacterial and antifungal properties. They are also effective against viruses. Phenols stand up better to dirt and other organic matter than other chemical disinfectants, but their efficacy is still compromised. Commercial versions of phenols include Lysol and Pine-Sol.
The term "hypochlorites" refers to disinfectants containing chlorine. These disinfectants are effective against viruses and bacteria. They tend to work better in warm rather than cold water. Hypochlorites irritate skin, so you should be careful when using them. They are inexpensive, which makes them attractive disinfectants. Clorox is a common hypochlorite.
Iodophors are composed of iodine. They are the least toxic of all of the chemical disinfectants, but they stain porous materials and surfaces. Iodophors disinfect areas of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Iodine is used often in hospitals and surgical environments. Common commercial examples of iodophors include Betadine and Losan.
Quaternary ammonium chemicals, also referred to as quats, are odourless and colourless disinfectants. They deodorise and they have some detergent properties as well. They do not work well with soaps or other cleaning agents, so rinse well after cleaning if you plant to use a quat to disinfect. Quats work well against bacteria, and some fungi and viruses. Commercial quats include Roccal and Germex.
Oxidising agents are disinfectants that rely on oxygen to kill pathogens. They work well against bacteria, viruses and some fungi. Hydrogen peroxide and peracetic acid are two common oxidising disinfectants.
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