Disinfect vs. Sterilize


Disinfection and sterilization are both decontamination processes. While disinfection is the process of eliminating or reducing harmful microorganisms from inanimate objects and surfaces, sterilization is the process of killing all microorganisms. That is the main difference between sterilizing and disinfecting. Sterilization also destroys the spores of various organisms present on surfaces, in liquids, in medication, or in compounds such as biological culture media. Such "extreme" forms of decontamination are needed during critical times like surgery, or in environments like industrial, laboratory or hospital. It is more practical to use disinfection in everyday life.

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Definition To disinfect means to eliminate most harmful microorganisms (not including their spores) from surfaces or objects; inactivate viruses. To sterilize means to kill ALL microbes - whether harmful or not - and their spores present on a surface or object.
Methods Phenolic disinfectants, heavy metals, halogens (eg chlorine), bleach, alcohols, hydrogen peroxide, detergents, heating and pasteurization. Heat, chemicals, irradiation, high pressure, and filtration.
Types Air disinfectants, alcohols, aldehydes, oxidizing agents, phenolics. Steam, heating, chemical sterilization, radiation sterilization, sterile filtration.
Application Disinfection is used mostly to decontaminate surfaces and air. Sterilization is used for food, medicine and surgical instruments.

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Disinfection is usually carried out by using disinfectants (chemicals). Some disinfectants may be very effective and have a wide spectrum (have the capability of destroying a wide variety of microorganism) while others may have a narrow spectrum but, they may be easy to use, be non toxic or inexpensive.

Sterilization can be done by three methods: physical, chemical and physiochemical. Physical method includes heat, radiation, and filtration. Chemical methods involve using liquid and gaseous chemicals. Physiochemical is a combination of physical and chemical method.

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Surface Decontamination techniques in hospitals:

Sterilization and Disinfection:

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