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Different Types of Disinfectants & Sanitisers
and How to Choose Which One to Use

    Disinfectants are commonly found in households, commercial businesses, and industrial facilities. There are different types of disinfectants and sanitisers available, and it is imperative to know how they work and what you need to consider when choosing which one to use.

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    Bacteria and microorganisms, though we may not see them with our eyes, are found everywhere: from the kitchen to the boardroom, from the air we breathe to the bottom of the sea. They can live on rock, soil, oceans, and even snow. Some types of bacteria live in or on other organisms like plants, animals, and humans. Many of these microorganisms are harmless, or even helpful. However, there are those that are harmful and can cause dangerous or deadly diseases, known as pathogens, and disinfectants or sanitisers are required to eliminate or kill those.

    To ensure the prevention of common sicknesses like the cold, flu, and other infectious illnesses, using the right type of product and understanding how they work are a must.

    How Disinfectants and Sanitisers Work

    Each disinfectant has an active ingredient that disrupts or damages the cells of microorganisms, thereby killing pathogens. There are some disinfectants that combine the active ingredient with additional cleaning agents to allow for cleaning and disinfecting at the same time.

    Certain disinfectants and sanitisers have stronger formulations and are manufactured for environments where dangerous pathogens are likely to be present, such as hospitals. Meanwhile, low level disinfectants are also available for use in areas like homes and commercial businesses and applied on floors, walls, and countertops. These are places where the likelihood of dangerous microorganisms being present are low.

    Manufacturers are required by law to follow all applicable label instructions, such as Usage Instructions, Dilution Rates, Shelf Life, Storage Instructions, Material Compatibility, Safe Use, and Disposal Instructions.

    Main Types of Sanitisers and Disinfectants

    There are several categories of disinfectants used in most commercial and industrial settings. Below you will find some of the most used types:

    • Alcohols – one of the most effective sanitisers and has been used as a sanitiser for centuries. Ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are the most commonly used for sanitisation purposes. Absolute alcohol does not work very well and must be formulated between 62% to 80% concentration to be properly effective. Alcohols kill bacteria by a process of protein denaturation, making these formulations incredibly effective as a sanitising agent. Alcohol bonds with and breaks down the protective membrane surrounding the bacteria, exposing and dissolving the bacteria and quickly killing it. These solutions are normally air dry and do not need a cloth or rinse – making them quick and easy to use.
    • Hydrogen Peroxide – a colourless liquid chemical that is used for a wide range of cleaning and personal products, from bathroom cleaners to toothpaste. This is commonly used in healthcare settings for cleaning and disinfecting. It is effective against a wide variety of bacteria, germs, and viruses. According to the CDC, three percent hydrogen peroxide is a stable and effective disinfectant when used on inanimate surfaces.
    • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats) – are odourless, colourless, non-irritating, and deodorising. Combining Quats with a variety of detergents enables its usage as a 2-in-1 cleaner and disinfectant. These are generally fungicidal, bactericidal and virucidal (against lipophilic or enveloped viruses); however, they are not sporicidal, tuberculocidal or virucidal (against hydrophilic or nonenveloped viruses). Additionally, its effectivity is inhibited by water hardness and when it encounters some soap or soap residues, detergents, acids, and heavy organic soiling.

    Things to Consider When Choosing a Disinfectant

    There are 5 primary factors to consider when evaluating a disinfectant or sanitiser to ensure that it meets the needs of your commercial or industrial facility.


    Make sure that the disinfectant or sanitiser product you choose is effective against the microorganisms or pathogens that are of top concern in your facility. It is better to choose a product that has a wide spectrum of activity, making it effective against various microorganisms and in their different physiological states.

    Wet Contact and Kill Times

    In order for disinfectants to kill pathogens, they need to be wet on the surface being disinfected to be actively working. Different disinfectants have different kill times; however, contact time of less than 10 minutes is ideal. When it comes to kill times, the faster a sanitiser or disinfectant works, the better. In the case of sanitisers that evaporate much quicker than the required contact time, rewetting is necessary. Using a spray and air dry product also prevents the possibility of contamination via a cloth.


    There are disinfectants that are toxic, some that are corrosive, others that have an undesirable odour, and those that can stain surfaces. Making sure that disinfectants are safe to use, in terms of meeting health and safety standards, is of the utmost importance. Checking the product’s SDS for information on safety, toxicity signal word, flammability ratings and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements is crucial.

    Ease of Use

    The disinfectant or sanitiser you choose must have clear and straightforward directions for use to ensure that your cleaning crew will be able to understand how to use the product correctly. Other factors that can contribute are the product’s shelf life, acceptable odour, multi-functionality (cleans and disinfects in a single step), and its availability in various convenient forms (e.g., liquids, sprays, refills, etc.).

    Other Factors

    Aside from the above-mentioned, other factors for consideration include the overall cost (including the product’s capabilities, cost per use, etc.); available training and support from the manufacturer; and, the product’s ability to help minimise the number of cleaning products used in the facility.