What’s the Deal with Disinfectants?

disinfectantsWe are glad you asked. Actually, surface disinfectants are quite simple. Apply the product … wait the specified time … and the germs are killed. You have probably heard these common Disinfecting buzz words: Kill Claims, RTU, Phenols, limited, Peroxide, Hospital, Alcohols, Dwell Time, Concentrates, Quat, Bleach and General; these are all the common buzzwords related to disinfecting.  Disinfectants are easily understood and incorporated into daily cleaning when reviewed by the individual product characteristics (OR – when broken down into individual product characteristics):  the dilution type, the active ingredient, the claims and the disinfecting strength.


Dilution is all about how much product is required per gallon of water.  They can range from 1:256 (1/2 oz. of disinfectant to 1 gallon of water), to a ready to use product (no mixing required). It all comes down to the best end use cost for the end user. The higher the dilution rate the better the costs. Concentrates each have their own set dilution rate and can be used through Chemical Management Systems or measured and diluted by hand.

The active ingredient in a disinfectant is the workhorse that kills the germs. The choice of active has evolved over the years. Originally, disinfectants were phenols, an extremely corrosive choice. After falling out of favor, phenols were replaced with quaternary ammonium cations, or “quats”.  Quats are much more user friendly, and depending on the formulation, can kill all major microorganisms. Other actives can be alcohol, bleach, or peroxide. The three are used for varying reasons, bleach for price, alcohol for ease of use and peroxide for versatility.

The whole point of a disinfectant is to kill germs. This said, there are two important measures to look for; One, number of kill claims and dwell times. The number of kill claims is how many bacteria the disinfectant will kill. They can range from the easiest of kills, HIV-1, to more complicated like Tuberculosis (Tb). Two, the dwell time is the amount of time that the surface has to remain wet with the solution to completely kill germs. Each disinfectant will list its kill claims and dwell times on the label.

Finally, there are three categories of disinfectants with varying strengths: limited, general and hospital. You can determine the category of disinfectant by the microorganisms listed on the label. The three main microorganisms used to classify the disinfectants are, Salmonella, Staph and Pseudomonas. Limited disinfectants must be supported by efficacy testing against either salmonella or Staph. General disinfectants must kill both Salmonella and Staph. The Hospital disinfectants must kill Salmonella, Staph and Pseudomonas.

Disinfectants make surfaces both cleaner and safer for everyday use; prevent the spread of infection and disease. From phenols, to quats, to classic bleach, remember to read the label for information to successfully disinfect.

Andy Gail is the Associate Product Manager – Disinfectants for Betco Corporation®. He is driven to ensure a cleaner more sustainable future through products and programs that you inspire and we innovate. When not disinfecting, Andy enjoys spending time with friends and traveling. Click here to contact Andy directly.

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