What are the differences between active substances in disinfectants?

During the winter and the season of the virus, you will significantly reduce your risk of infection by using disinfectants. They will remove the virus from your hands or the various surfaces we often touch, reducing the spread of the infection. Disinfectants work thanks to the active substances contained in them, and the most common that Croatian Institute of Public Health also recommends are disinfectants with hydrogen peroxide, alcohol or benzalkonium chloride. Through today’s text we will introduce you to the active substances in disinfectants, and which species is best for use in the age of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

What are Disinfectants?

Before explaining which active substances are best for virus protection and how they work, it is very important to be aware of what disinfectants are. These are products that kill microorganisms, such as viruses or bacteria. They are necessary protection during a pandemic and will greatly reduce the chance of the virus spreading. Professional disinfectants are tested according to strict rules and guarantee the destruction of the virus, and the good thing about the current SARS-CoV-2 virus is that it is protected by the envelope. These viruses are much easier to destroy, and various disinfectants can help to eliminate them. Read more about disinfectants in the text What are disinfectants? And we continue with the subject of this text – what are the differences between active substances in disinfectants.

Hydrogen peroxide

One of the most-known oxidizing disinfectants is the one based on hydrogen peroxide, popularly called hydrogen. It is the most widespread household disinfectant. Hydrogen in this disinfectant is used as a 3% solution, and it works by releasing an oxygen atom and removing viruses and bacteria. The free radicals that this disinfectant will release will immediately attack viruses, bacteria and various other unwanted microorganisms from the surface. It is also an important ingredient in our body and is a dictator of the strength of our immune system, which is a further confirmation of the effectiveness of this disinfectant. Hydrogen peroxide disinfectant will be effective in eliminating the virus and is one of the desinficients prescribed by the CIPH. It is most commonly used for the disinfection of various surfaces. Its disadvantage is that it is relatively unstable and after some period of storage the peroxide molecules can decompose into water and oxygen. 

Alcohol – ethanol and isopropanol

70% ethanol is certainly the best-known disinfectant within humans for classic protection. It can be purchased at pharmacies, and alcohol is also very effective with COVID-19 viruses. This disinfectant is made up of water and ethanol and the ratio of 70-30 is the most effective for disinfection. Many believe that 100 percent isopropyl alcohol is more effective, but it is not. There are three reasons. The first is that 96% ethanol or 99% isopropanol coagulates (and dehydrates) the bacterial/virus protein so quickly that a layer of relatively impermeable denatured protein is formed in the outer parts of the cell (inside and below the cell wall), which prevents further diffusion of alcohol into the cell and thus protects the cell nucleus from denaturation. With 70% ethanol, the process is slower and alcohol manages to penetrate the proteins and denature them through the bacterium. The second reason is that the 70% alcohol is slower to evaporate and thus acts longer, the third essential reason is the so-called. osmotic pressure. Osmotic pressure can kill microorganisms, and it requires more water. The negative effect of this disinfectant is that it can dry your hands, but in combination with moisturizer it is still one of the most effective on the market.

Old people will tell you that vodka or brandy is a great disinfectant, but this is only partially true. They do not contain a high content of ethanol, which is the main disinfectant and must be above 60% in the product. Avoid using glycerin/glycerol, as it is not an effective disinfectant, it leaves traces of use (it is sticky).

Benzalkonium chloride

Benzalkonium chloride is an excellent disinfectant and an essential ingredient in many disinfectants. It removes various fungi, bacteria and viruses. Its use does not leave harmful effects on the skin or materials, and is a great prevention for the virus to remain on the surface. For example, after disinfection of a certain surface, a thin layer of active substances may be left on it, which will protect the surface from accepting the virus. It is a quaternary nitrogen compound that is effective in destroying enveloped viruses, such as the virus corona. Quaternary nitrogen compounds are both surfactants (detergents) and strong antiseptics, which makes them good for cleaning. It will be less likely for you to encounter them than alcohol and peroxide in the usually available products.

Other types of disinfectants

There are various other types of disinfectants on the market, but through the text we have mentioned in more detail only these three types, which are recommended by the CIPH. In case you are not able to get one of these three types, you can choose to buy some other disinfectants, which will certainly be better protection than just using soap or detergent. To use the maximum potential of these disinfectants and the active substances they contain, it is recommended to wash hands before disinfecting them. That way you will remove dirt from them and make sure that they are completely free of microorganisms. Hydrogen peroxide, alcohol or benzalkonium chloride disinfectants are the most effective and best products in a fight against SARS-CoV-2 viruses, and how to use them properly can be found in How to use disinfectants properly.

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