BUNZL Cleaning & Hygiene Supplies Blog

Clean vs superclean: what’s the difference between antiseptic, disinfectant, biological, and other cleaners?

When it comes to cleaning, you know the words – disinfectant, bleach, antibacterial, sanitisers, detergents – the list goes on. But do you know what they really mean, what the products actually do, and most importantly, when to use them?

Disinfectant. antiseptic or biological germ killers?

Here we unravel the mysteries of these commonly used cleaning products, how they work and which to use.

What is a disinfectant?

A disinfectant is a substance that kills germs on non-living things.

The most well-known disinfectant is bleach, which is sodium hypochlorite diluted in water, sometimes with a scent added. It kills germs quickly and it is effective across a broad spectrum of pathogens, which is why it is so popular as a disinfectant. It is also a cost-effective option and it can be purchased as straight beach or bleach-based sprays.

On the down side, as is well known, bleach must be handled very carefully because it is highly corrosive, it is not safe to ingest, and it can cause respiratory problems if it is not used in accordance with safety guidelines.

Common alternatives to bleach are products based on quaternary ammonium compounds (Qats) – these disrupt the cell wall of the bacteria. Or alternatively, phenols -which work on the enzyme systems of the bacteria cells. These, while still needing care in their handling, are less toxic than bleach but can be highly effective disinfectants. A great example is our own brand Cleanline Pine Disinfectant.

There is also an array of antibacterial products available which, as their name suggests, kill bacteria. They don’t however, unless they have additional active ingredients, kill viruses or fungi. More on these later.

What is an antiseptic?

Antiseptics are substances that kill germs on living things.

In other words, they do a similar job to disinfectants, but they are for people rather than floors, surfaces and other inanimate objects. They are an important part of your first aid kit and you can also use antiseptic handwashes and wipes in bathrooms for added protection.

What is a detergent?

Detergents don’t kill bacteria, but they DO clean things. Disinfectants alone don’t clean, they simply attack the germs. Detergents are designed to remove grease and dirt, which is often where germs are harboured, so regular cleaning should be an important of your safety and hygiene procedures. Washing up liquid and laundry powders are the main examples of detergents.

What is a sanitiser?

Sanitisers combine the cleaning properties of a detergent with the germ-killing properties of a disinfectant. They have a range of applications, from hand sanitisers to industrial cleaning products. When used in cleaning, they are often called cleaner disinfectants. Gojo make a range of sanitisers, which include the Purell range of Hand Sanitising Foams, delivered through a dispensing system. A versatile cleaner disinfectant is Oxivir Plus Spray, which is a broad-spectrum cleaner disinfectant, great for cleaning up after spills.

What are biological cleaners?

Biological cleaners are antibacterial cleaners, which work by consuming ‘bad’ bacteria. They are a more eco-friendly alternative to bleach-based products, with many of the same benefits but fewer downsides. They penetrate deeper into a surface and this means they keep surfaces hygienic for longer, although they do take longer to work than bleach. Find out more about how they work here.

You can buy full-spectrum biological cleaners such as OdorBac Tec4, which has the added benefit of destroying odours, but generally biological cleaners are more specialised. Each product will attack a particular type of bacteria. For instance, InnuScience Nu-Smell Plus Odour Treatment is based on bacteria that quickly decomposes urine and organic matter. Which, in simple terms, means they deal with washroom odours.

It’s your choice!

When choosing the right product, consider: what job you need it to do – for instance are you disinfecting or cleaning? Where you are cleaning – for instance, it is safer to use biological cleaners around food. Whether there are viruses and fungi in addition to germs – in which case bleach might be the best bet. Whether you want to be more eco-friendly, and of course, what your budget is. We cover the full range of possibilities on the Bunzl CHS website and we’re happy to advise if you need more information.

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