disinfectant, agent that destroys disease-causing microorganisms and their spores. Disinfectants, or germicides, are sometimes considered to be substances applied to inanimate bodies, whereas antiseptics, not so potent, are agents that kill microbes on living things. Mercuric chloride, carbolic acid (phenol), and chlorinated lime and other chlorine releasing compounds are disinfectants used on contaminated objects. Formaldehyde and some other disinfectants suitable for use in sprays are also used as deodorants and as airborne disinfectants, or fumigants, in large enclosed spaces. Certain substances such as mercury toluene sulfonanilide are used for disinfecting seeds to protect against soilborne plant diseases. Some disinfectants, especially chlorine and chlorine compounds, are also used as preservatives for leather and other materials. In weaker solutions some disinfecting chemicals may be used on the skin. Disinfection of contaminated objects can also be accomplished by boiling, where appropriate.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.