Last updated: August 11, 2021

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Every day, people not only exchange pleasantries, but also a variety of different pathogens. Germs, viruses and bacteria quickly find a transmission path, which is why a certain level of hygiene is very important.

In addition to washing their hands with soap, more and more people are turning to a disinfectant - be it a liquid disinfectant, a disinfectant gel or a disinfectant wipe.

With our disinfectant test 2021 we would like to help you and give you a good overview. We have compiled detailed background information and would like to explain disinfectants for hands, skin and surfaces in more detail.




The most important

  • A disinfectant is used to inactivate infectious and pathogenic germs. In this way, bacteria, viruses and fungi are destroyed and the spread of disease is reduced.
  • The intended use of disinfectants varies, as they provide sterility on surfaces, skin, hands and rooms. For an optimal effect, the disinfecting surface must be completely wetted, the exposure time must be observed and the recommended effective concentration must be used.
  • After the expiry date, a disinfectant does not go bad, but may no longer achieve the desired effect. The reason for this is the potential volatilisation of some substances.

The Best Disinfectants: Our Picks

Buying and evaluation criteria for disinfectants

In the following, we would like to show you which criteria you can use to decide between the many disinfectants.

When buying disinfectants, you should consider the following features:

In the following paragraphs, we would like to explain to you what the individual criteria are. By making the right choice, you can fight fungi, bacteria and viruses and protect yourself against possible pathogens.

Ingredients

Like various cleaning agents, disinfectants are based on different active ingredients. The pathogens a disinfectant is effective against therefore depend on its contents. The product label indicates which microorganisms the respective agent is effective against.

The following properties are distinguished:

type property
bactericidal acts against bacteria
fungicidal acts against fungi
virucidal acts against enveloped and non-enveloped viruses
limited virucidal acts against enveloped viruses

Basically, most disinfectants consist mainly of alcohol. In the field of disinfection, alcohols such as ethanol, propanol or isopropanol have many areas of application.

They are bactericidal, fungicidal and partially virucidal, but not against bacterial spores. For these reasons, alcohol works well as a disinfectant against bacteria, fungi and some viruses.

The alcohol penetrates the bacteria and denatures the proteins of the pathogens.

An alcohol-based disinfectant is used for hand disinfection, skin disinfection, surface disinfection and instrument disinfection. It is classified as harmless to health and acts very quickly.

Disinfectants with 60% to 95% alcohol by volume are most effective. Alternatives are disinfectants made of aldehydes, chlorine, iodine, acids and peroxides.

Content amount

Disinfectant is packaged in a wide variety of sizes depending on your needs. These include dispensers, sprays, bottles and canisters. You can buy small bottles of about 20 millilitres up to large canisters of about 20 litres.

The small bottles are particularly suitable for travelling, as they are easy to store and very practical. Large quantities of disinfectant are suitable for places where many people gather. If several litres are purchased, care must be taken how the product is stored. Instructions for this can usually be found on the packaging label.

Application

Each disinfectant has specific requirements for maximum effectiveness. For this reason, the manufacturer's instructions for use are very important.

The manufacturer's instructions should also indicate the purpose for which the disinfectant is to be used. Not every disinfectant is equally suitable for all surfaces.

Particularly harsh active ingredients and frequent use can attack the natural protection of the skin. Many surfaces and materials react sensitively to certain ingredients, which is why attention should be paid to this.

Basically, we distinguish between disinfecting hands and skin as well as surfaces. Thus, a disinfectant for hands or skin is best suited to the needs of the skin. Often, ingredients that are not too harsh and that care for the skin are used. It is applied to the parts of the body that come into contact with the most germs.

A surface disinfectant is usually sold as a concentrate that must be diluted with water or as a mixture with water. It can be used to treat surfaces such as door handles, handrails, table tops, tiles or even floors. Surface disinfection is necessary in a hospital, for example. (1)

Skin compatibility

Do you often have to deal with a lot of people at work or in your private life? Frequent cleaning of the hands is essential to stop the spread of pathogens. However, disinfecting the skin can damage or dry out the natural protective layer of the hands. For this reason, it is essential to check whether the skin tolerates the selected product well.

Protect your skin from drying out.

How well the disinfectant is tolerated depends on the active ingredients. For dry hands, a disinfectant with moisturising components is recommended. These products have a moisturising effect and thus protect sensitive skin. (2)

PH-neutral disinfectants are also less likely to upset the skin. Just like people with sensitive skin, allergy sufferers should also make sure to choose a product without fragrances or dyes, which can cause skin irritations. (2)

Guide: Frequently asked questions about disinfectants answered in detail

In order to inform you comprehensively about the effectiveness of disinfectants and to give you an understanding of the current state of science, we have summarised all the important information in the following sections.

What is a disinfectant and how does it work?

A disinfectant is a substance that is used for chemical cleaning, the so-called disinfection. The opposite of this is physical cleaning. In order to understand this better, a differentiation now follows:

  • Cleaning: Removal of visible and invisible dirt in order to deprive germs of their basis of life and prevent them from multiplying
  • Disinfection: Killing or inactivating infectious and pathogenic germs

Disinfection only takes place when a maximum of ten germs out of a million survive. This means the specific killing of pathogens by certain active substances against which the agent is used. Although not all germs can be eliminated, a reduction of fungi, viruses and bacteria does take place. (3)

Just as on the skin, germs can settle on all surfaces through droplets in the ambient air. Only by disinfecting these surfaces can the germ load be reduced to a certain level. (3)

Now the question arises as to how a disinfectant works. The effect depends on the respective ingredients.

Effect on microorganisms

Based on their mode of action, disinfectants can be divided into the following categories:

  • Protein denaturation: Disinfectants containing alcohols or aldehydes have a denaturing effect. This means that they change the protein-containing structures of the microorganisms and thus destroy them. Some agents additionally damage the envelope of the viruses or the nucleic acid of the germs.
  • Oxidation: If microorganisms are to be oxidised, hydrogen peroxide, for example, splits off the electrons of the germs. It kills organisms on the surface, but in the tissue they are decomposed by peroxidase. In this way, the germs are attacked and destroyed.
  • Lowering the surface tension: Phenols, for example, are added to some disinfectants because the susceptibility of the germs is achieved by lowering the surface tension. In this way, the microorganisms are destroyed.
  • Enzyme inhibition: Disinfectants with heavy metal compounds can inhibit the enzymes of the pathogens and thus reduce them.
  • Alteration of nucleic acids: Peracids in the disinfectant, on the other hand, alter the structure of nucleic acids and act as an oxidising agent.

When used correctly, all disinfectants should be effective against microorganisms. They destroy the cell walls of pathogens, allowing the active substances of the disinfectant to enter the interior of the cell and exert their lethal effect. (4)

Desinfektionsmittel-1

Especially in times of severe pandemics, it is important to learn about the microorganism and its prevention.
(Image source: unsplash / Fusion Medical Animation)

To be on the safe side, you should always do enough research to find the right product for your needs. (4)

What types of disinfectants are there?

Hygiene should not only take place on the human body. Everywhere where pathogens can multiply, disinfection should be considered from time to time. We would now like to name and briefly describe the two most important types of disinfectants, hand and skin disinfectants, and surface disinfectants.

Type Description
Hand and skin disinfectant This disinfectant is suitable for contact with human skin, as it is mostly adapted to the needs of the skin while killing germs.
Surface disinfectant The disinfectant for surfaces is more concentrated and is mainly used in hospitals and the food industry.

In the next paragraphs, we would like to mention the respective types and their most important characteristics in more detail.

Hand and skin disinfectants

These products, which are intended for direct contact with the skin, usually consist of alcohols. Existing germs as well as approaching germs are to be treated and the transmission between pathogen and human is to be prevented. If germs enter the body for the first time, they can multiply unhindered without prior treatment with disinfectants. (5, 6)

Advantages
  • gentle
  • caring ingredients
  • available in liquid, viscous gel or as a wipe
Disadvantages
  • pungent odour
  • burning on contact with wounds

Since hands in particular should therefore be cleaned frequently, the formulation of the remedies is adapted to the needs of the skin. The components are not too harsh and are intended to care for the skin. Nevertheless, it usually has a pungent odour and burns on contact with wounds. (7)

Desinfektionsmittel-2

There are also viscous gel disinfectants or disinfectant wipes for daily use. These are often used on the go because they are small and convenient.
(Image source: unsplash / Kelly Sikkema)

The exposure time of the product depends on the ingredients and the skin condition. Hand and skin disinfectant is used for injuries, inflamed skin or sterile work. A liquid disinfectant is suitable for these purposes. (7)

Surface disinfectant

A surface disinfectant is often available as a ready-to-use mixture or concentrate that must be diluted with water before use. Even small quantities of the agent are often very productive and are mainly used in hospitals and the food industry. (8)

Advantages
  • very productive
  • efficient and effective
  • partly perfumed for pleasant smell
Disadvantages
  • not suitable for all surfaces
  • frequent contact may cause skin irritation

Large surfaces or floors are disinfected with disinfectants, which are usually stored in large canisters. Of course, surface disinfectants can also be used to disinfect your own home. However, the surface condition of the area must be observed, as some are very sensitive. (9)

Especially people with a weak immune system have to pay attention to thorough hygiene not only when travelling but also in their own home. However, frequent contact can irritate the skin. For smaller surfaces, such as a desk, disinfectant wipes or disinfectant dispensers are also suitable. (9)

When and how often does it make sense to disinfect?

The frequency of use of a disinfectant depends on the purpose of use. Basically, disinfection makes sense where there are many pathogens, i.e. where many people are present. The aim is to break a possible chain of infection and to prevent infection.

So it can be said that routine disinfection can be beneficial in everyday life. In case of contamination or places such as a hospital or public transport, hands should be disinfected immediately. (10)

What is the correct way to disinfect?

Basically, there are three basic rules for disinfecting that should always be followed.

These include:

  1. Complete wetting of the surface to be disinfected
  2. Observe the exposure time
  3. Use the recommended effective concentration

A disinfectant can only be effective where it reaches. For this reason, for example, hands or a surface must be completely wetted with a disinfectant. In this way, the active ingredients of the agent can reach the desired area. (11)

Disinfectants can only work if the prescribed exposure time is observed. Only then can the agent inactivate microorganisms. The exposure time varies from product to product and can be read on the label.

Disinfectants for hands must act for at least 30 seconds, whereas products for surfaces can take up to several hours.

Desinfektionsmittel-3

To achieve successful disinfection, all three basic rules must be followed.
(Image source: unsplash / Kelly Sikkema)

In principle, disinfectants can be distinguished between concentrates and ready-to-use mixtures. Only properly dosed disinfectants can be effective, which is why the application concentration must be properly diluted. This can be found in the manufacturer's instructions.

What side effects can a disinfectant cause?

All it takes is one touch with the bus stop bar and many people reach for the disinfectant to kill the germs. If a disinfectant is used too often, it can also have negative effects on health.

Germs are survivors.

Germs are adaptable and develop quickly to become resistant to the disinfectant. Thus, after a while, the agent can no longer do anything against the germs.

Another fact is that the frequent use of a disinfectant dries out the hands, despite the fact that it contains moisturising substances. This irritates or even damages the outer layer of skin - allergies and eczema can be the result. The high alcohol content found in most products makes the skin brittle and accelerates the ageing process. (12)

Damaged skin makes it all the easier for germs to penetrate the skin. In addition, the intense smell of a disinfectant can irritate the sense of taste and smell. (12)

The disinfectant should be used with caution, because too much of a good thing is not always good. It is important that if you have sensitive skin, you use appropriate care and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

What is the shelf life of a disinfectant?

Disinfectants do not go bad, but after the best-before date they may no longer have the desired effect. The reason for this is that some substances can volatilise in the meantime.

On the packaging of the disinfectant, there is exact information about the respective product, including the expiry date. Depending on the ingredient, the shelf life may vary.

The individual date should therefore be read independently.

Care should be taken when disposing of an expired product. Depending on the contents, for example, solutions can end up in waste water and thus pollute the environment. For these reasons, expired disinfectants count as hazardous materials and must be handed over to a disposal company.

What alternatives are there to disinfectants?

Do you have particularly sensitive skin or would you like to try something other than a disinfectant to take care of your hygiene? There is nothing to stop you. Here we would like to give you some alternatives.

Type Description
Soap Thorough hand washing with soap can inactivate or weaken germs. It is important to wash your hands thoroughly for 30 to 40 seconds, rinse and dry them.
Melissa spirit Melissa spirit is a herbal medicine that has an alcohol content of about 60%. Therefore, it is effective against enveloped viruses. However, improvised alternatives should only be used as an emergency solution.
Strong spirits are also suitable as an emergency solution because of their alcohol content, which should be over 60%. They damage the protein coat and the genetic material of the viruses, thus inactivating them.

As you can see, such alternatives can also be used in emergencies. If possible, however, thorough hand washing with soap should be preferred, as the ingredients of soap kill microorganisms and care for the hands in the process.

Image source: thamkc / 123rf

References (12)

1. Song X, Vossebein L, Zille A. Efficacy of disinfectant-impregnated wipes used for surface disinfection in hospitals: a review. Antimicrob Resist Infect Control. 2019 Aug 19;8:139. doi: 10.1186/s13756-019-0595-2. PMID: 31452873; PMCID: PMC6701098.
Source

2. Tyan K, Kang J, Jin K, Kyle AM. Evaluation of the antimicrobial efficacy and skin safety of a novel color additive in combination with chlorine disinfectants. Am J Infect Control. 2018 Nov;46(11):1254-1261. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2018.04.223. Epub 2018 May 24. PMID: 29803593; PMCID: PMC7115331.
Source

3. Hernández-Navarrete MJ, Celorrio-Pascual JM, Lapresta Moros C, Solano Bernad VM. Fundamentos de antisepsia, desinfección y esterilización [Principles of antisepsis, disinfection and sterilization]. Enferm Infecc Microbiol Clin. 2014 Dec;32(10):681-8. Spanish. doi: 10.1016/j.eimc.2014.04.003. Epub 2014 Jul 9. PMID: 25023372.
Source

4. Chidambaranathan AS, Balasubramanium M. Comprehensive Review and Comparison of the Disinfection Techniques Currently Available in the Literature. J Prosthodont. 2019 Feb;28(2):e849-e856. doi: 10.1111/jopr.12597. Epub 2017 Apr 19. PMID: 28422353.
Source

5. Ramirez-Arcos S, Goldman M. Skin disinfection methods: prospective evaluation and postimplementation results. Transfusion. 2010 Jan;50(1):59-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1537-2995.2009.02434.x. Epub 2009 Oct 10. PMID: 19821950.
Source

6. Hoffman P. Skin disinfection and acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 2001 Dec;19(2):112-6. doi: 10.1136/aim.19.2.112. PMID: 11829158.
Source

7. Cook IF. Sepsis, parenteral vaccination and skin disinfection. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2016 Oct 2;12(10):2546-2559. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2016.1190489. Epub 2016 Jun 13. PMID: 27295449; PMCID: PMC5084982.
Source

8. Boyce JM. Alcohols as Surface Disinfectants in Healthcare Settings. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2018 Mar;39(3):323-328. doi: 10.1017/ice.2017.301. Epub 2018 Jan 28. PMID: 29374503.
Source

9. Kenters N, Huijskens EGW, de Wit SCJ, van Rosmalen J, Voss A. Effectiveness of cleaning-disinfection wipes and sprays against multidrug-resistant outbreak strains. Am J Infect Control. 2017 Aug 1;45(8):e69-e73. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2017.04.290. Epub 2017 May 29. PMID: 28571980.
Source

10. Wenzler-Röttele, S. (2006). Standardhygienemaßnahmen und abteilungsübergreifende Pflegetechniken. 10.1007/3-540-34525-6_24.
Source

11. Link T. (2018). Guideline Implementation: Manual Chemical High‐Level Disinfection. Volume108, Issue4, Pages 399-410.
Source

12. Cozad A, Jones RD. Disinfection and the prevention of infectious disease. Am J Infect Control. 2003 Jun;31(4):243-54. doi: 10.1067/mic.2003.49. PMID: 12806363.
Source

Why you can trust me?

Wissenschaftlicher Review
Song X, Vossebein L, Zille A. Efficacy of disinfectant-impregnated wipes used for surface disinfection in hospitals: a review. Antimicrob Resist Infect Control. 2019 Aug 19;8:139. doi: 10.1186/s13756-019-0595-2. PMID: 31452873; PMCID: PMC6701098.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Tyan K, Kang J, Jin K, Kyle AM. Evaluation of the antimicrobial efficacy and skin safety of a novel color additive in combination with chlorine disinfectants. Am J Infect Control. 2018 Nov;46(11):1254-1261. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2018.04.223. Epub 2018 May 24. PMID: 29803593; PMCID: PMC7115331.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Hernández-Navarrete MJ, Celorrio-Pascual JM, Lapresta Moros C, Solano Bernad VM. Fundamentos de antisepsia, desinfección y esterilización [Principles of antisepsis, disinfection and sterilization]. Enferm Infecc Microbiol Clin. 2014 Dec;32(10):681-8. Spanish. doi: 10.1016/j.eimc.2014.04.003. Epub 2014 Jul 9. PMID: 25023372.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Chidambaranathan AS, Balasubramanium M. Comprehensive Review and Comparison of the Disinfection Techniques Currently Available in the Literature. J Prosthodont. 2019 Feb;28(2):e849-e856. doi: 10.1111/jopr.12597. Epub 2017 Apr 19. PMID: 28422353.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Ramirez-Arcos S, Goldman M. Skin disinfection methods: prospective evaluation and postimplementation results. Transfusion. 2010 Jan;50(1):59-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1537-2995.2009.02434.x. Epub 2009 Oct 10. PMID: 19821950.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Hoffman P. Skin disinfection and acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 2001 Dec;19(2):112-6. doi: 10.1136/aim.19.2.112. PMID: 11829158.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Cook IF. Sepsis, parenteral vaccination and skin disinfection. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2016 Oct 2;12(10):2546-2559. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2016.1190489. Epub 2016 Jun 13. PMID: 27295449; PMCID: PMC5084982.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Boyce JM. Alcohols as Surface Disinfectants in Healthcare Settings. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2018 Mar;39(3):323-328. doi: 10.1017/ice.2017.301. Epub 2018 Jan 28. PMID: 29374503.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Kenters N, Huijskens EGW, de Wit SCJ, van Rosmalen J, Voss A. Effectiveness of cleaning-disinfection wipes and sprays against multidrug-resistant outbreak strains. Am J Infect Control. 2017 Aug 1;45(8):e69-e73. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2017.04.290. Epub 2017 May 29. PMID: 28571980.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Wenzler-Röttele, S. (2006). Standardhygienemaßnahmen und abteilungsübergreifende Pflegetechniken. 10.1007/3-540-34525-6_24.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Link T. (2018). Guideline Implementation: Manual Chemical High‐Level Disinfection. Volume108, Issue4, Pages 399-410.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Cozad A, Jones RD. Disinfection and the prevention of infectious disease. Am J Infect Control. 2003 Jun;31(4):243-54. doi: 10.1067/mic.2003.49. PMID: 12806363.
Go to source
Reviews