Difference Between Antiseptic and Disinfectant

Antiseptics and disinfectants are both related to microbiology. These are chemicals frequently used to stop or reduce microbial growth and thereby prevent the spread of infections and diseases, as well as to stop contaminations. Some chemicals belong to both categories showing that the difference is not based on the chemical structure but the application.


Antiseptics are chemicals used to destroy microorganisms on living tissue/body. This is essential in preventing infection sepsis “wounds are getting worse” with further microbial infections. Antiseptics could be against bacteria, fungi, or a wide range of organisms. Depending on the application, they are identified as antibacterial, antifungal etc. Some antiseptics can destroy microorganisms completely, and some can only prevent growth or multiplication. Antiseptics were first introduced by Joseph Lister to be used in surgical processes upon observing that people die after surgery, due to post surgery infections on wounds. Louis Pasteur also worked on the same field and introduced many developments.

Among the common antiseptics, alcohol, also known as surgical spirit, is famous and one of the first ever antiseptics used. Boric acid is used for vaginal yeast infections and in eyewash. Hydrogen peroxide is used to clean wounds. Iodine is frequently used in hospitals for pre and post-surgery cleansing. Sodium chloride, sodium carbonate, phenols, and many others are also used depending on the application. One important feature that antiseptics should hold is to be harmless or do minimal damage to live tissue. If the antiseptic damages human body, it could not be used efficiently.


Many chemicals belong to the class of disinfectants. These chemicals are used to destroy microorganisms on non-living surfaces and objects. Disinfectants may destroy bacteria or fungi by interfering with their metabolism or by disrupting cell walls. These are frequently used in hospitals, surgery rooms, kitchens and bathrooms where microorganisms have the chance to grow rapidly and spread diseases exponentially. Ideal disinfectant may fully sterilize a surface, but it is not the case always. When these chemicals are applied some microorganisms build resistance against them and make the situation worse. Therefore, sometimes the concentrations used may have to be elevated.

Alcohols, aldehydes, oxidizing agents, and household bleach are very popular disinfectants. Iodine, ozone, silver, and copper salts are also used depending on the application. UV light is also used as a disinfectant when disinfectant should be applied without wetting a surface or when frequent disinfection is necessary. Disinfectants are quite harsh compared to antiseptics because they have to work on surfaces with many types of microorganisms. Disinfectants are most of the time “broad- spectrum” cleaners due to this reason. Disinfectants are very strong chemicals, and they cannot be used instead of antiseptics in almost all situations because they are toxic and damage living tissues.

What is the difference between Antiseptic and Disinfectant?

• Antiseptics are used to destroy microorganisms on living tissues, but disinfectants are used to destroy microorganisms on surfaces and non-living objects.

• Antiseptics should be harmless or with minimal harm to live tissues, but disinfectants should not necessarily be harmless to tissues because they are not directly applied. However, encounter with the human body should be minimal.