6 Difference Between Sterilization And Disinfection

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Disinfection and disinfection are the two common types of decontamination. Decontamination is the process of decreasing antimicrobial presence in an area or on a surface. Sterilization is the process of removing all harmful microorganisms from objects and surfaces whereas disinfection means to eliminate most harmful microorganisms, but this doesn’t include spores. Both procedures (disinfection and sterilization) use chemical or physical agents to destroy pathogens and to ensure that pathogenic microorganisms are not transmitted to patients.

What Is Sterilization?

Sterilization refers to any process that eliminates, removes, kills or deactivates all forms of life particularly referring to microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, spores, unicellular eukaryotic organisms such as plasmodium and other biological agents like prions present on a specific surface, object or fluid, for example food or biological culture media. Through sterilization, microorganisms are destroyed or deactivated, resulting in termination of growth and reproduction.

There are several types of sterilization used on different pieces of equipment and surface areas. The methods of sterilization include heat, radiation, chemical, high pressure and sterile filtration.

What You Need To Know About Sterilization

  1. Sterilization kills both vegetative cells and spores.
  2. Sterilization is used to completely remove microbes from objects of instruments coming into direct contact with a break in skin or mucous membrane.
  3. Sterilization provides absolute or extreme cleaning.
  4. Sterilization is used mostly to decontaminate food, medicine and surgical instruments.
  5. Methods of sterilization include: Dry heat sterilization, wet heat sterilization, radiation (UV, x-rays and gamma rays), steam sterilization, filtration, flaming, ethylene oxide gas, Tyndallization and incineration.
  6. Sterilizing agents include: Ethylene oxide gas, plasma gas, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, moist heat in autoclaves, Dry-heat in ovens, radiation, paracetic acid etc.

What Is Disinfection?

Disinfection is the method to destroy most microbial forms especially vegetative pathogens rather than bacterial spores by using physical and chemical procedures such as UV radiation, boiling, vapor.  Disinfectants are frequently used in hospitals, dental surgeries, kitchens and bathrooms to kill infectious organisms.

Contaminated biotic surfaces such as skin, contaminated abiotic surfaces such as medical devices and kitchen equipment exposed to cross contamination must be disinfected to prevent pathogens. Disinfection entails both physical and chemical methods.  

Characteristics Of An Ideal Disinfectant

An ideal disinfectant should:

  • Should not loose efficacy with reasonable dilution.
  • Be non-toxic and non-allergenic
  • Be active in the presence of organic matter.
  • Be active in any PH
  • Should have a long shelf life.
  • Have a broad spectrum of activity.
  • Be able to destroy microbes within a certain period.

What You Need To Know About Disinfection

  1. Disinfection kills only vegetative cells. Spores of microorganism are not killed.
  2. Disinfection is used to reduce microbes from objects or instruments coming into direct contact with intact tissue or mucous membrane.
  3. Disinfection provides adequate cleanliness.
  4. Disinfection is used mostly to decontaminate surfaces and air.
  5. The common methods of disinfection are physical or chemical methods. Disinfection uses detergents, hydrogen peroxide, alcohols, bleach, halogens like chlorine, phenolic disinfectants, heavy metals, heating and pasteurization.
  6. Disinfecting agents include: benzalkonium chloride, Silver, Propylene glycerol, triethylene glycerol, copper Alloys, Thymol-based disinfectants, Quarterary Ammonium Compounds, Chlorox, Lysol, Peracetic acid, chlorine dioxide, Aldehydes, hydrogen peroxide, ozone gas, phenolic compounds, sodium hypochlorite etc.

Difference Between Sterilization And Disinfection In Tabular Form

BASIS OF COMPARISON STERILIZATION DISINFECTION
Description Sterilization kills both vegetative cells and spores.   Disinfection kills only vegetative cells. Spores of microorganism are not killed.  
Use It is used to completely remove microbes from objects of instruments coming into direct contact with a break in skin or mucous membrane.   It is used to reduce microbes from objects or instruments coming into direct contact with intact tissue or mucous membrane.  
Cleaning It provides absolute or extreme cleaning.   It provides adequate cleanliness.  
Application It is used mostly to decontaminate food, medicine and surgical instruments.   It is used mostly to decontaminate surfaces and air.  
Methods Dry heat sterilization, wet heat sterilization, radiation (UV, x-rays and gamma rays), steam sterilization, filtration, flaming, ethylene oxide gas, Tyndallization and incineration.   The common methods of disinfection are physical or chemical methods. Disinfection uses detergents, hydrogen peroxide, alcohols, bleach, halogens like chlorine, phenolic disinfectants, heavy metals, heating and pasteurization.  
Examples Ethylene oxide gas, plasma gas, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, moist heat in autoclaves, Dry-heat in ovens, radiation, paracetic acid etc. Benzalkonium chloride, Silver, Propylene glycerol, triethylene glycerol, copper Alloys, Thymol-based disinfectants, Quarterary Ammonium Compounds, Chlorox, Lysol, Peracetic acid, chlorine dioxide, Aldehydes, hydrogen peroxide, ozone gas, phenolic compounds, sodium hypochlorite etc.