Antiseptic and disinfectant are biocides  and both are used for the same purpose but for different locations or surfaces. Their purpose is either killing microorganisms or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms or reducing the CFU of microorganisms. Many people often use these terms ‘Antiseptic’ and ‘Disinfectant’ interchangeably. Unlike antibiotics, both antiseptic and disinfectant are used externally. Less chance of microbial resistance to disinfectants and antiseptics due to high concentration.
Both antiseptic and disinfectant are used in a pharmaceutical company. Antiseptics are used to decontaminate human skin and exposed tissue and may be used by personnel before entering the manufacturing area. Decontamination means the removal of microorganisms by disinfection or sterilization. Disinfectants are used to clean floors, walls, ceilings, equipment, machinery etc. to produce and maintain aseptic conditions. The effectiveness of a disinfectant depends on its intrinsic biocidal activity, the concentration of the disinfectant, the contact time, the nature of the surface disinfected, the hardness of the water used to dilute the disinfectant, the amount of organic materials present on the surface, and the type and the number of microorganisms present.
Both are biocides but there are many differences between antiseptic and disinfectant. Let’s have a look at the difference between antiseptic and disinfectant.
Definition of antiseptic and disinfectant
Antiseptic is a chemical substance used to inhibit or destroy microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses etc. on living tissues including skin surface, oral cavities, mucous membranes. According to USP, antiseptic is an agent that inhibits or destroys microorganisms on living tissue including skin, oral cavities, and open wounds .
On the other hand, Disinfectant is an agent used to destroy or reduce microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses etc. but not necessarily their spores on inanimate surfaces and objects such as medical devices, equipment, instruments, walls, ceiling, and floors. According to USP, a disinfectant is a chemical or physical agent that destroys or removes vegetative forms of harmful microorganisms when applied to a surface . Most of the disinfectants do not destroy microbial spores .
Interrelation between antiseptic and disinfectant
An antiseptic is a type of disinfectant, but not all disinfectants are antiseptics. For example phenol 0.2% is an antiseptic and 5% solution is disinfectant . 2% glutaraldehyde as a disinfectant only .
Types of applied Surface
Antiseptic is applied on living tissues including skin surface, oral cavities, mucous membranes. While disinfectant is applied on non-living surfaces and objects such as medical devices, scalpels, forceps, equipment, instruments, walls, ceiling, and floors.
Antiseptic generally contains lower concentrations of biocides than disinfectants. While disinfectant contains a high concentration of biocides than antiseptic. For instance, phenol 0.2% is an antiseptic and 5% solution is disinfectant .
What are the uses?
Uses of antiseptic include:
- For hand scrubs and rubs to inactivate sanitizing agents or harbor microorganisms.
- Disinfecting mucous membranes. They can also help to treat an infection urethra, or vagina or bladder.
- Washing hand or skin before an operation.
- To treat skin infections to lessen the risk of infection, burns, wounds and minor cuts.
- Throat and mouth infections treatment such as Betadine Antiseptic Sore Throat Gargle.
Uses of Disinfectants include:
- Household cleaning including windows, kitchen, washroom floors, walls, ceilings.
- Disinfecting surgical sites in hospitals and other health care settings.
- Disinfecting non-living objects such as medical instruments, utensils, facilities, equipment, etc.
- To maintain aseptic conditions.
Volume of packaging
Antiseptics are packaged in small volume than disinfectants such as Boots Antiseptic Cream 35g, Betadine Ointment 25g.
On the other hand, disinfectants are packaged in large volume than antiseptics. Do you know what the difference between packing and packaging is?
Pharmaceutical Dosage form
Antiseptic is available as various pharmaceutical dosage forms like cream, ointment, gel, and Gargles. While Disinfectant is not available as such pharmaceutical dosage forms.
Risk of Misuse
Antiseptics have no harmful effects on living tissues. Whereas disinfectants are very harmful when used on living tissues.
First Aid Treatment
Antiseptics are used as first aid treatment. On the other hand, disinfectants are not used as first aid treatment.
Examples of antiseptic and disinfectant
Example of Antiseptic: 0.5% Chlorhexidine gluconate, 4% chlorhexidine, 10% povidone-iodine, 3% hexachlorophene, 70% isopropyl alcohol, and 0.5% chlorhexidine in 95% alcohol .
Example of Disinfectant: 70% Isopropyl alcohol, 500 µg per g Chlorocresol, 500 µg per g chloroxylenol, 2% glutaraldehyde, 5% solution is disinfectant  and 3% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2).
Summary of the difference between antiseptic and disinfectant
|Antiseptic is a chemical substance used to inhibit or destroy microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses etc. on living tissues (skin surface or oral cavities or mucous membranes).||Disinfectant is an agent used to destroy or reduce microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses etc. but not necessarily their spores on inanimate surfaces and objects.|
|An antiseptic is a type of disinfectant.||Not all disinfectants are antiseptics.|
|Living tissues such as skin surface or oral cavities or mucous membranes.||Non-living surfaces and objects.|
|Generally, Lower than disinfectant.||High concentration than antiseptic.|
|To inhibit or destroy microorganisms on living tissue including skin, oral cavities, and open wounds.||To destroy or reduce microorganisms on inanimate surfaces and objects.|
|Packaged in small volume than disinfectants.||Packaged in large volume than antiseptics.|
|Antiseptic has pharmaceutical dosage forms like cream, ointment, gel, and Gargles.||Disinfectant is not available as such pharmaceutical dosage forms.|
|No harmful effect on living tissues||Very harmful when used on living tissues|
|Used as first aid treatment.||Not used as first aid treatment.|
|0.5% Chlorhexidine gluconate, 4% chlorhexidine, 10% povidone-iodine, 3% hexachlorophene, 70% isopropyl alcohol, and 0.5% chlorhexidine in 95% alcohol.||70% Isopropyl alcohol, 500 µg per g Chlorocresol, 500 µg per g chloroxylenol, 2% glutaraldehyde, 5% solution is disinfectant and 3% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2).|
In the United States, the official disinfectant testing methods are published by AOAC International3 and include the Phenol-Coefficient Test, Use-Dilution Method Test, Hard Surface Carrier Method, and Sporicidal Carrier Test .
However, by considering the aforementioned differences between antiseptic and disinfectant, it is clear that their key difference is their application.
Also, you may read:
- Gerald Mcdonnell, A. Denver Russell (1999). Antiseptics and Disinfectants: Activity, Action, and Resistance. Clinical Microbiology Reviews. 1999, p.147–179.
- The United States pharmacopeia (2020). The National formulary. Rockville, Md.: United States Pharmacopeial Convention, Inc.,
- Lachman, L., & Liebermann, H. A. (2013). The Theory and practice of industrial pharmacy. Washington Square, Philadelphia USA: Lea & Febiger.
- Rowe, R. C., Sheskey, P. J., Owen, S. C., & American Pharmacists Association. (2006). Handbook of pharmaceutical excipients. London: Pharmaceutical Press.
- Shoji H, Gutierrez MM, Aldridge KE (1984). The use of 2% glutaraldehyde as a disinfectant for arthroscopes used in septic joints. Orthopedics.1;7(2):241-4. doi: 10.3928/0147-7447-19840201-09
- Zhu G, Wang Q, Lu S, Niu Y. (2017) Hydrogen Peroxide: A Potential Wound Therapeutic Target?. Med Princ Pract. 26(4):301–308. doi:10.1159/000475501
- AOAC International Official Methods of Analysis, 15th, 16th, and 17th editions. Arlington, VA.
- Ascenzi, J.M., Ed. (1995) Handbook of Disinfectants and Antiseptics, 5th ed.; Marcel Dekker: New York.
- Russell, A.D.; Hugo, W.B.; Ayliffe, G.A.J., Eds. (1999) Principles and Practices of Disinfection, Preservation, and Sterilization, 3rd ed.; Blackwell Science Inc.: London