By Jim Flieler, VP of Sales for Charlotte Products

 Here at Charlotte Products, we are often asked by purchasers about the active ingredients in our disinfectant products. We understand that infection prevention requires a careful balance between the necessity of removing, or killing, harmful microorganisms in order to protect human health while also not introducing harmful chemicals to the indoor environment. That’s why we have worked so hard to offer a wide range of disinfectant products suited for facilities with different levels of infection risk, different building occupant populations and different rules and regulations from their local health departments and governments. The most important part of product purchasing is understanding the needs of your facility and population and making an educated decision that minimizes risks and promotes the healthiest, safest environment possible. 

Understanding the basic science behind how disinfectants and their active ingredients work, and why some are safer for human health and the environment, while others have quicker or more robust kill claims, can help purchasers decide which disinfectants will work best for their facilities’ distinct needs. Below, we provide some information about two common active ingredients in many of our disinfectants, quats and hydrogen peroxide. This guide can be used as a jumping off point for research into a disinfectant that is right for your facility’s needs. For further reading, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published helpful information with details about the active ingredients that can be found in most disinfectants under its Chemical Disinfectants inventory online.

Hydrogen Peroxide as Used in Disinfectants

Used as a disinfectant, hydrogen peroxide is active against a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores. Hydrogen peroxide works as an oxidizing agent, which means it works by pulling electrons from other molecules in the cells. Disinfectants that use hydrogen peroxide as its main active ingredient can have broad kill claims; however, it can be unstable. If it comes into contact with other molecules like organics and soil that haven’t been cleaned before the disinfectant was sprayed, then effectiveness will degrade. Processes that include thorough cleaning before the disinfectant application will need to be a high priority when using hydrogen peroxide disinfectants. When in doubt, always follow the Five Critical Security Elements of Disinfecting to ensure that your disinfectants are effective. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the gentler, less abrasive active ingredients used in disinfectants. It is not commonly associated with skin or respiratory irritation in human health. In addition, hydrogen peroxide is environmentally friendly. Many people don’t realize that hydrogen peroxide is H2O2 in chemical terms, which means that it is water with an extra oxygen molecule. So, it breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen particles, all naturally occurring elements.  Of course, as with any chemical or compound, the higher the concentration of hydrogen peroxide, the more harmful it can be to human health. 

Quats as Used in Disinfectants

Quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, are fungicidal, bactericidal, and virucidal. Quats are generally understood to be catalytic, which means they aren’t destroyed in the process of killing the pathogens. Quats are also somewhat less toxic than more traditional active ingredients like bleach and phenolics. However, when used at higher concentrations, quats can have health implications that include skin and respiratory irritation. For certain circumstances where stability and broad kill claims are critical, quats can be safer to use than other hospital-grade disinfectants with more traditional active ingredients.

Each quat has a different environmental profile. Some are more biodegradable than others, and the ones that are biodegradable will break down into different molecules, with different environmental footprints, all depending on the type of quat. Quats sometimes encounter binding issues when used with cotton or gauze pads, which is why microfiber is always recommended. Quats are a highly effective active ingredient that can produce broad kill claims with minimal dwell times. While gentler than bleaches and phenolics, quats can be more abrasive than hydrogen peroxide. That is why disinfectants with quats as an active ingredient are recommended for facilities that require higher levels of infection prevention and do not have sensitive populations. 

The type of disinfectant you choose to build your infection prevention program around must meet the needs of your facility, your regulations and rules and the needs of your employees and building occupants. However, any disinfecting solution you choose to bring into your infection prevention program will be an important aspect of a much larger program that must include planning, training, and fully understanding the processes needed to allow that disinfectant to prevent the spread of infection. Contact an expert at Charlotte Products to talk more about the disinfecting products and training resources we have available for you.