What’s the Difference between Detergents & Disinfectants?

When discussing cleaning it is important to distinguish between cleaning agents such as detergents and disinfectants.  It is surprising that many people in Healthcare industries are not aware of the difference between a detergent and a disinfectant and, as a consequence, use these products inappropriately.

Detergents:  Are cleaning solutions.  Detergents contain surfactants which aid wetting of surfaces – that is, they increase the contact between the water, the surface and the soil (dirt, blood, proteins etc.) adhering to that surface.  Surfactants also help to hold the soils in solution, preventing re-deposition. Detergents also contain other components to aid the cleaning process such as water softeners and corrosion inhibitors.

Household and Clinical Detergents:  It is also important to distinguish between household dish-washing detergent and a clinical detergent. Household detergents are made with a large emphasis on mildness to skin and scent.  Household detergents are formulated to have a neutral pH (7.0) and contain moisturisers and skin care additives that do not contribute to the cleaning process and may lead to unwanted residues (Bio-Soil) on instruments and equipment.

Disinfectants:   Agents used to inactivate micro-organisms (non-sporing).  Essentially, they are solutions that are designed to “kill”, but not remove, bacteria and viruses etc. There are many disinfectants on the market that performs this “killing” process with a range of efficacy.  Just because a product claims to kill, “99% of the germs” doesn’t mean it can do so with normal practical use.  Many products on the market need a constant chemical exposure period of 15 mins.  This is long after the solution has evaporated on first spray.  It will need the product to be sprayed on that surface multiple times.   Given this, it could be the most effective Hospital Grade Disinfectant in Australia and New Zealand currently available.  Its also important to note, Disinfectants should never be used as cleaning agents unless specifically formulated for that purpose.