There are hundreds of cleaners and disinfectants available to us. How will you decide which one is safe and if it will do the job you want it to? I put together this information of common cleaners and disinfectants to help you make that decision. But first, lets discuss the terms used for the various levels of cleaning.

Antiseptic - A chemical that will inhibit or prevent the growth of microbes on living tissue. It should be used as directed otherwise skin irritation can occur.

Disinfectant - A chemical that will inhibit or prevent the growth of microbes on inanimate objects.

Sanitize - To reduce the number of microbes to a safe level.

Sterilize - To eliminate all microbes by inactivating or killing them.

Bactericide - Kills bacteria.

Fungicide - Kills fungi.

Virucide - Kills viruses.

Sporicide - Kills spores (fungi and bacteria).

Types of Disinfectants:

Alcohol -
Usually a base ingredient for many other disinfectants. For example, Lysol contains 79% ethyl alcohol. When used as a surface spray or solution on inanimate objects, alcohol is an excellent pathogen destroyer. But it must be left in contact with the surface for at least 20 minutes to be effective. That's not an easy task considering how quickly it evaporates! The higher level of alcohol percentage or "proof" the more effective it is. Isopropyl alcohol is not considered to be a disinfectant. It's main use is a skin antiseptic. Most alcohols are to be used on skin or for disinfecting instruments. Alcohol disinfects by denaturing proteins.

Advantages: effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.

Disadvantages: long contact time required, will not penetrate organic material, irritates tissues, only certain types of alcohol contain true disinfectant properties, may dissolve synthetic surfaces, fumes may be irritating, fire hazard risk, not effective against some viruses and bacterial spores, and it evaporates quickly.

Dilution and Contact Time: 70 - 90% solution, 20 minutes.

Aldehydes - (Lysofume, Cidex, Sonacide, Sporocidin, Glutacide, Totacide, Wavicide)
These have a wide range of germicidal activity. Glutaraldehyde and formaldehyde are used as instrument and catheter disinfectants. Formaldehydes are very potent disinfectants, but can be highly toxic to humans and animals. Use these chemicals only as a last resort and in a well ventilated area.
Advantages: non corrosive to metal, does not damage rubber or plasic, effective against bacteria, viruses, fungi, spores, and parasites (including Giardia and Cryptosproidia), and remains effective in the presence of organic debris.

Disadvantages: highly toxic, long contact time, must be used in a well ventilated area, and is moderately expensive.

Dilution & Contact Time: Formalin (37%) combined with alcohol to make a 8% formaldehyde and 92% alcohol formulation will sanitize and kill anything it comes into contact with if left on for 10 minutes (18 hours for Cryptosporidia).
Glutaraldehyde can be used to sterilize if given a treatment time of 10 to 12 hours.

Ammonia - (Oocide)
Ammonia products are irritating to the skin and to the respiratory tract. Do not mix with bleach as toxic fumes will be released and can harm you and your reptile.
Advantages: effective against Cryptosporidia, coccidia, and mycobacteria.
Disadvantages: causes respiratory irritation, ineffective in the presence of organic material, and has a foul odor.
Dilution and Contact Time: 10% solution, 30 minutes.

Chlorhexidine - (Nolvasan, Virosan, Chlorhex, Chlorasan, Phisohex, Hibitane, Hibistat)
Chlorhexidine is one of the more widely used disinfectants because it is relatively nonirritating to tissues. It is used as a disinfectant for inanimate objects or an antiseptic for cleaning skin wounds. Some chlorhexidine compounds contain alcohol, these have been found to have excellent antimicrobial properties as opposed to those only containing chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine is effective against many bacteria, fungi, viruses, and yeast (especially Candida).
Advantages: non toxic, no harsh odors even if some residue is left, can be used topically on wounds or as a mouth wash for mouth rot (Stomatitis) at 1% strength, and is effective against Staphylococci and many gram-negative organisms.

Disadvantages: moderate cost, long contact time, poor efficiency against most viruses, and not effective against Cryptosporidia, Giardia, coccidia, mycobacteria, bacteria spores, gram-positive bacteria including Pseudomonas (except Virosan, it will kill Pseudomonas), not very effective in the presence of organic debris, and hard water makes it less effective.
Dilution and Contact Time: 1:20 and 1:30 solution, 15 minutes.
Additional Info: It was recently brought to my attention that when Nolvasan is mixed with treated (tap) water the mixture will only be good for one (1) week. If mixed with distilled water, the mixture will last up to 6 weeks.
Also, I was just informed that Nolvasan will not kill coccidia oocysts! This info came directly from the manufacturer. Thank you Bennett for supplying us with this info!

Chlorine - (Household bleach, Clorox, Purex)
Bleach is harsh, but very effective. Bleach can create toxic fumes, especially in a heated environment, and can lead to chemical pneumonia, skin and eye irritation, burns, and even death. Please use with great care and caution. For bleach to be most effective, use the solution at a temp of at least 65 degrees F. Using at temp below 50 degrees cuts the effectiveness in half. Chlorine functions by oxidizing proteins and nucleic acids. Do not mix with ammonia as toxic fumes will be released and can harm you and your reptile.

Advantages: low cost, easily available, will kill most bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, and mycoplasmas, and is a potent deoderizer.

Disadvantages: very caustic to tissues and equipment, not effective against Giardia, rapidly inactivates in the presence of organic debris, loses its effectiveness quickly when diluted, prolonged contact may be required for heavy sterilization, must be used in a well-ventilated area, not effective against spores, corrosive to metals, deteriorates fabrics, and must be rinsed off well.

Dilution & Contact Time: 1:10 (10% solution), 10 - 15 minutes.

Iodines - (Betadyne, Povidone, Wescodyne, Virac, Prepodyne, Iosan, Vanodine, Scrubodyne)
Iodine solutions are commonly used as antiseptics for cleaning wounds and skin. Iodine functions by oxidizing proteins.

Advantages: limited vapor production, not usually effected by hard water, long shelf life, works well in hot or cold water, and is effective against many bacteria, some fungi, spores, and viruses.

Disadvantages: moderate cost, most require use at full strength, may stain surfaces and tissues, toxic if ingested, may dry and crack skin, corrosive to metal surfaces with prolonged exposure, easily deactivated by contact with organic debris, must be applied multiple times in order to thoroughly disinfect, and is not effective against against Pseudomonas, Cryptosporidia, Giardia, and bacteria spores.

Dilution & Contact Time: 1% dilution, 10 minutes.

Peroxide - (Hydrogen Peroxide, Hyperox, Virkon, Sterisyl)
Peroxides are often used to clean wounds. They work the best against anaerobic bacteria. Stabilized peroxides may be blended with quaternary ammonia. Some products, like Hyperox and VirkonS are more effective against a viruses, bacteria, fungi, and bacterial spores. A newer, more concentrated peroxide, Sterisyl, has been proposed as a disinfectant-sterilant and may disinfect very rapidly. Hydrogen peroxide functions by creating hydoxyl free radicals, which destroy cell membranes, DNA, and other cell components.

Advantages: a valuable cleansing and deodorizing agent.

Disadvantages: not effective against viruses, bacterial spores, fungal spores, Cryptosporidia, Giardia, mycobacteria, damaging to tissues, moderately corrosive, and is ineffective in the presence of organic matter.

Dilution & Contact Time: 3% hydrogen peroxide solution can be used as a skin antiseptic, 10% hydrogen peroxide solution is an effective disinfectant, 10 - 25% hydrogen peroxide concentration can be used as a chemical sterilant. Contact time - 20 minutes. Only 5 - 10 minutes is needed for a 1% dilution of Virkon.

Phenols - (Lysol, O-Syl, Matar, Septicol, Environ, Lysovet, Tek-Trol, Pantek, Discan, Staphene)
Phenols are produced by coal distillation and are commonly found in mouth washes, scrub soaps, and surface disinfectants. Phenols function by destroying cell membranes and denaturing proteins.

Advantages: inexpensive, retains effectiveness in the presence of organic material, effective against many bacteria (especially gram-positive bacteria), including Pseudomonas, Salmonella, mycobacteria, fungi, Stomatitis virus, Rabies, and lipophilic viruses, effective in hard water, doesn't stain or leave a residual odor, and is easy to rinse off.

Disadvantages: extremely toxic to reptiles, toxic to many tissues including skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, not effective against bacterial spores or hydrophilic viruses, must be used with adequate ventilation, and must be rinsed off surfaces before allowing reptile to come in contact with it.

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds - (Roccal-D, 3M Quat, Triad, Parvosol, Hitor, Omega, etc...)
"Quats" is a large class of disinfectants which add organic compounds to ammonia. Quats functions by destroying cell membranes.

Advantages: effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, some viruses, and chlamydia, may be used at very dilute solutions, contains detergent for action against organic debris, and has a pleasant scent in most forms.

Disadvantages: very difficult to rinse off completely, moderate cost, extremely hard water will cause the solution to deactivate, not effective against bacterial spores, mycobacteria, fungi, Pseudomonas, Cryptosporidia, or hydrophylic viruses, high levels of organic debris or hard water may cause the solution be become inactive, may leave a residue on objects which cannot be rinsed off, soap residues can partially inactivate the solution, and ingestion or inhalation may cause respiratory paralysis and even death.

Dilution & Contact Time: dilute as directed on bottle, 10 - 20 minutes.

Stabilized Chlorine Dioxide - (Oxyfresh)
Stabilized chlorine dioxide is a chlorine derivitave that is a powerful oxidizing agent. It can destroy many pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Many studies have suggested that it is superior to regular household bleach. In Europe, it is used in the drinking water because it does not form carcinogenic by-products like bleach does.

Advantages: safe for use around human and animals, safe to use on skin, is an excellent deodorizer because the oxidizing destroys odor causing molecules, diluted solution does not create harmful fumes and has a shelf life of 7 days once diluted.

Disadvantages: moderate cost (one pint will make 16 gallons), in undiluted form the fumes may be toxic, and it is rapidly deactivated by organic debris and exposure to sunlight.

Steam -
Pressurized steam directed into cracks or onto surfaces is an excellent sterilant.
Advantages: not toxic, no residue or odor, kills coccidia oocysts (above 165 degrees F), kills many types of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, very economical once the steam cleaner is purchased, and there are no chemicals involved - just water!

Disadvantages: equipment could be costly, it takes a lot of steam to clean a small area, and hot steam can break glass if the surface is cold (be careful with those aquariums!).

Wood Tar Distillates - (Pine-sol, Hexol)
Wood tar distillates are the by-products of the lumber industry. They are very safe, but have a very low level of effectiveness against any pathogen.

Advantages: easily available, low cost, pleasant fragrance, low toxicity, and they are good cleaning products for removing organic debris.

Disadvantages: hard to rinse off, may leave floors slick, and is a very low grade disinfectant.

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