Antiseptics, Disinfectants & Sterilization

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Autoclaves and Moist Heat Sterilization: Use With Surgical Tools

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Ways to Defend Against…
  • 0:39 Disinfection
  • 3:56 Sterilization
  • 6:38 Antisepsis
  • 8:23 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss the differences between antisepsis, disinfection, and sterilization as well as some of the methods used for sterilization and antiseptic compounds you may have used yourself.

Ways to Defend Against Infection

Whether you are going in for surgery or are just cleaning your house, there are all sorts of different ways by which you can try to kill potentially deadly bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens. Three of these ways are antisepsis, disinfectants and sterilization.

These three different techniques are super important in keeping a clean home or in preventing potentially deadly infections during surgery. We'll see how these two seemingly different actions, cleaning the house and surgery, may actually overlap.


In the doctor's office, or at home, someone almost certainly performed a task called disinfection. Disinfection is the process of destroying and eliminating almost all of the microorganisms on inanimate objects and surfaces.

If that definition confused you then don't worry. I am 99.9% sure you intrinsically know what this actually means. For, if you've ever seen a commercial touting that a certain spray kills 99.9% of germs, then you were dealing with something called a disinfectant.

This disinfectant is sprayed on inanimate, or non-living, objects, such as windows, your kitchen's countertops, and the cabinets in a doctor's office, to eliminate virtually all living microorganisms on that object or surface.

The key thing to remember is that disinfectants do not eliminate all microorganisms and are used on inanimate, or non-living, objects. Furthermore, the amount and type of microorganism killed not only depends on the kind of organisms being targeted, such as a bacteria, viruses, or fungi, but also the type of disinfectant used.

That's because not all disinfectants can get every type of microorganism, and even the best disinfectants may not work very well if the temperature isn't just right, the concentration of the disinfectant is off, or there is a lot of dirt on the surface of the object that must be penetrated.

That's why prior to disinfecting something like a toy that was lying around outside, it's important to clean off any dirt and debris you can see with your naked eye prior to using a disinfectant that kills the microorganisms that you cannot see. Other factors, such as the type of surface being disinfected, the length of time the disinfectant is used for, and the way the disinfectant is applied may also influence its effectiveness.

As a morbid metaphor, you can compare the effectiveness of a disinfectant on a certain microorganism to the way a murderer (the disinfectant) may try to kill a person (the microorganism). For example, someone may try to kill a person by dropping them into the sea, far from shore, in the hopes that the person will drown. But if that person is a good swimmer, then that method of killing won't be as effective as frying that person to death instead. That's why you have to be careful in which disinfectant you use to kill a certain type of microorganism.

Finally, some disinfectants kill microorganisms outright while others simply inhibit their growth. If a disinfectant ends in the suffix -cidal, such as bactericidal, then it kills that type of microorganism. However, if it ends in the term -static, such as bacteriostatic, then it inhibits the growth of that microorganism. In the case of the latter, the bacteria will eventually die due to something like old age, and because they couldn't have children, theoretically no more bacteria should be left after a certain period of time.


In any case, disinfection is in slight contrast to something known as sterilization. Sterilization is the destruction of all microorganisms on an inanimate surface or object. As you can tell, both sterilization and disinfection work on inanimate objects or surfaces. However, sterilization gets all, as opposed to most, microorganisms. It's unequivocal. It's either all or nothing.

Therefore, it's highly unlikely that you went ahead and sterilized something like your kitchen countertop. This would be very difficult, expensive, and dangerous to do unless you are very well trained and have a lot of nifty chemicals or equipment.

However, sterilization is very important in places like a hospital, where a doctor or surgeon will need to use surgical instruments for a certain procedure. These surgical instruments must be sterile prior to use. That's because if they have even one little microorganism on it and that microorganism jumps off of the surgical instrument and into the cut the surgeon makes into your body, you can get a life-threatening infection!

The most common way by which objects, such as surgical instruments, are sterilized is through a process known as autoclaving. This is a procedure that uses steam under pressure, to destroy all living microorganisms on inanimate objects and surfaces.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account