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Alcohols tend to be bactericidal and fungicidal, but may also be viricidal for enveloped viruses only. Although alcohols are not sporicidal, they do inhibit the processes of sporulation and germination. Alcohols are volatile and dry quickly, but they may also cause skin irritation because they dehydrate the skin at the site of application. One common clinical use of alcohols is swabbing the skin for degerming before needle injection. Alcohols also are the active ingredients in instant hand sanitizer s, which have gained popularity in recent years. The alcohol in these hand sanitizers works both by denaturing proteins and by disrupting the microbial cell membrane, but will not work effectively in the presence of visible dirt.

Last, alcohols are used to make tincture s with other antiseptics, such as the iodine tinctures discussed previously in this chapter. All in all, alcohols are inexpensive and quite effective for the disinfection of a broad range of vegetative microbes. However, one disadvantage of alcohols is their high volatility, limiting their effectiveness to immediately after application.

a) Ethyl alcohol has 2 C’s and an OH.  B) Isopropyl alcohol has 3 C’s and an OH.
(a) Ethyl alcohol, the intoxicating ingredient found in alcoholic drinks, is also used commonly as a disinfectant. (b) Isopropyl alcohol, also called rubbing alcohol, has a related molecular structure and is another commonly used disinfectant. (credit a photo: modification of work by D Coetzee; credit b photo: modification of work by Craig Spurrier)
  • Name at least three advantages of alcohols as disinfectants.
  • Describe several specific applications of alcohols used in disinfectant products.


Surface-active agents, or surfactants , are a group of chemical compounds that lower the surface tension of water. Surfactants are the major ingredients in soaps and detergents . Soaps are salts of long-chain fatty acids and have both polar and nonpolar regions, allowing them to interact with polar and nonpolar regions in other molecules ( [link] ). They can interact with nonpolar oils and grease to create emulsions in water, loosening and lifting away dirt and microbes from surfaces and skin. Soaps do not kill or inhibit microbial growth and so are not considered antiseptics or disinfectants. However, proper use of soaps mechanically carries away microorganisms, effectively degerming a surface. Some soaps contain added bacteriostatic agents such as triclocarban or cloflucarban , compounds structurally related to triclosan, that introduce antiseptic or disinfectant properties to the soaps.

A chemical structure with a long carbon chain and two oxygens at one end. The end with the oxygens is the hydrophobic head which shuns hydrocarbon-like substances but is attracted to water molecules. Thi sis the anionic portion of the molecule. The long carbon chains are the hydrophilic tail which shuns water but is attracted to oily greasy hydrocarbon-like substances.
Soaps are the salts (sodium salt in the illustration) of fatty acids and have the ability to emulsify lipids, fats, and oils by interacting with water through their hydrophilic heads and with the lipid at their hydrophobic tails.

Soaps, however, often form films that are difficult to rinse away, especially in hard water, which contains high concentrations of calcium and magnesium mineral salts. Detergents contain synthetic surfactant molecules with both polar and nonpolar regions that have strong cleansing activity but are more soluble, even in hard water, and, therefore, leave behind no soapy deposits. Anionic detergents , such as those used for laundry, have a negatively charged anion at one end attached to a long hydrophobic chain, whereas cationic detergents have a positively charged cation instead. Cationic detergents include an important class of disinfectants and antiseptics called the quaternary ammonium salts (quats) , named for the characteristic quaternary nitrogen atom that confers the positive charge ( [link] ). Overall, quats have properties similar to phospholipids, having hydrophilic and hydrophobic ends. As such, quats have the ability to insert into the bacterial phospholipid bilayer and disrupt membrane integrity. The cationic charge of quats appears to confer their antimicrobial properties, which are diminished when neutralized. Quats have several useful properties. They are stable, nontoxic, inexpensive, colorless, odorless, and tasteless. They tend to be bactericidal by disrupting membranes. They are also active against fungi, protozoans, and enveloped viruses, but endospores are unaffected. In clinical settings, they may be used as antiseptics or to disinfect surfaces. Mixtures of quats are also commonly found in household cleaners and disinfectants, including many current formulations of Lysol brand products, which contain benzalkonium chlorides as the active ingredients. Benzalkonium chlorides, along with the quat cetylpyrimidine chloride , are also found in products such as skin antiseptics, oral rinses, and mouthwashes.

Questions & Answers

Hi, I'm new here. I'm Bello Abdul Hakeem from Nigeria.
welcome on board
Thanks brother I'm an undergraduate. I hope to study for MBBS.
pls guys help me out
what is limitation of plate
limitation of plate load test . there are some that should be considered while performing load test which are given below, this test is usually performed on relatively similar plate ,usually 1 or 2 square foot area the reason is that the plate of greater are the economically not feasible
Mechanism of bacterial pathogenicity
rashida Reply
write a short note on Algea
najaatu Reply
green minutes plants organisms that are produced in turf.
Algae is a kind of a photosynthetic organism, which is usually grown in the moist areas. These are usually the simple plants that grow near to the water bodies. It contains a kind of chlorophyll pigments that act as a primary coloring agent.
they are eukaryotic and most lived in fresh water. they are photosynthetic that's, they contain chlorophyll and store starch in discrete chloroplast.
are bacteria important to man
just Reply
yes, depending on the type of bacteria .eg the normal florals, the latic acid batteries etc are important to man
I mean latic acid bacterial
I don't understand this topic
Jane Reply
what topic is that
sahi kon hai bhosri ke
saurabh Reply
define metabolism of carbohydrates with example
Thavasi Reply
what is sterilization a
the process of keep equipment free from bacteria
is it only bacteria?
no undesirable fungi and contamination also.
what is streak plate method
what is the biofilm
metabolism is the sum of all the biochemical reaction required for energy generation and use of that energy to synthesize cell materials from small molecules in environment.
what are granulocytes
Shawnitta Reply
granulocytes are type of WBCs which contains granules in the cytoplasm
suitable example for prokaryotes
Suvetha Reply
one of the possible early sources of energy was
uv radiation and lighting
e coli is the example of prokaryotes
archaea too
which is the specific virus causing typhoid
Jeremiah Reply
it's caused by a virulent bacteria called Salmonella Typhi
write the life cycle of HIV
Firomsa Reply
describe the internal and external structure of prokaryotic cell in terms of there appearance and functions
Lenia Reply
compare and contrast similar structures found in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells
control of microorganisms
what is sterilization
how can a doctor treat a person affected by endospore forming bacteria in his/her wound?
Mambo Reply
define disinfectant
the process of killing
the process of killing microorganisms
a 28 years old woman come to your clinic with complain of fever painful genital blisters which express clear fluid when ruptured burning sensation around the bristers what is the diagnosis?
Ramadhani Reply
genital herpes caused by a virus called herpe simplex virus

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Source:  OpenStax, Microbiology. OpenStax CNX. Nov 01, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12087/1.4
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