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How to kill anaerobic bacteria

Updated July 19, 2017

Anaerobic bacteria survive in environments with little or no oxygen. There are three types: facultative, obligate and aerotolerant. Facultative anaerobes live and grow with or without oxygen. Obligate anaerobes thrive in environments without oxygen and can die in its presence. Aerotolerant anaerobes can live in the presence of oxygen, but cannot use it for growth. Anaerobes are infectious to humans and responsible for causing conditions such as periodontitis, aspiration pneumonia, botulism, as well as wound and abdominal infections. You can kill anaerobes using one of several methods.

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  1. Sterilise objects with an autoclave, a sterilisation device that delivers steam at a high pressure and temperature. It kills all bacteria, viruses, fungi and endospores. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), autoclaving is the most commonly used form of sterilisation. The temperatures required are either 121 degrees C or 132 degrees C. The length of time necessary to achieve complete sterilisation depends on what you are sterilising, as well as the type of autoclave you have. The CDC recommends using the autoclave "whenever possible" on items that are heat-resistant.

  2. Use ethylene oxide gas (ETO). ETO is effective and practical for use on items that cannot be exposed to high temperatures or moisture. This method is dangerous because the gas is explosive, and harmful if accidentally inhaled or exposed to the skin or eyes. The CDC reports that ETO is a carcinogen. ETO kills all microorganisms, including anaerobes. The disadvantage is that it is costly and takes longer to achieve sterilisation.

  3. Eradicate anaerobic bacteria using a chemical. Bleach and formaldehyde are highly effective chemical disinfectants capable of killing most bacteria, viruses and fungi. Disinfectants kill most microbes, but not all. Bleach is not effective against spores and its effectiveness is diminished when in contact with organic matter, such as blood and pus. Formaldehyde, when combined with alcohol is a sterilant. Bleach and formaldehyde are very toxic chemicals. Formaldehyde is carcinogenic and requires an extended period of time for effectiveness.

  4. Kill anaerobic bacteria with drugs. Drugs capable of killing bacteria are referred to as antibiotics and require a prescription from a licensed physician. Testing is required to determine the type of microorganism responsible for illness.

  5. Tip

    Follow the physician's instructions exactly when taking antibiotics. Otherwise the microorganism will survive.


    The methods described above can be harmful and dangerous to humans. Take precautions to prevent inhalation of gas and chemicals. Wear masks and use gloves.

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Things You'll Need

  • Autoclave

About the Author

Aunice Reed is a medical science writer living in Los Angeles, Calif. With over 10 years previous nursing experience, Reed has been writing for over six years and has attended University of Northern Iowa, University of California, Los Angeles and Los Angeles Harbor College.

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