A disinfectant is defined as a chemical substance which has the ability to destroy harmful micro-organisms. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).
A disinfectant is defined as a chemical substance which has the ability to destroy harmful micro-organisms. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

How to choose the right disinfectant

By Lifestyle Reporter Time of article published Jul 31, 2020

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With the arrival of the novel Covid-19 virus, shoppers are finding shelves and in store displays stacked with more hand sanitisers and general disinfectants than ever before. But how exactly does one know what to choose amongst the myriad of options available?

According to Dr Jacques Snyman, Chief Executive Officer of Medical Specialist Holdings, the massive choice of disinfectant products on the market makes it important to educate consumers about what constitutes a good sanitiser and inform them about what to look out for when navigating this increasingly diverse range of products.

Snyman says: “Not all sanitisers and disinfectants are created equal and consumers need to educate themselves properly before filling their shopping baskets with potentially ineffective products that look good on the shelf but do little to eliminate the dangers against which people need to guard.”

“A disinfectant is defined as a chemical substance which has the ability to destroy harmful micro-organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, moulds, mildews and fungi, especially on non-living objects as well as provide effective protection when used as hand sanitation devices. Disinfectants must be effective and safe regardless of any other compounds present during use. They must also be stable in both diluted and concentrated forms.2-6” says Snyman.

Commonly used disinfectant categories include alcohols, alkalis, aldehydes, oxidising agents (chlorine bleaches), phenols and quaternary ammonium products. In many cases, two or more different disinfectants are combined to improve activity or application properties.

Snyman says that disinfectants cannot merely be mixed or used in combination without the proper knowledge of each mechanism of action. For this reason, it is best to stick to trusted brands rather than simply selecting the cheapest product on the shelf.8

“It’s always a good idea to read the label before buying an unknown product and the one thing which you must always take note of, is the concentration of the alcohols used in a product,” says Snyman.

“Alcohols between 60-90 percent are considered to be good general disinfectants. However, the usefulness of alcohol as a single agent decreases as the concentration used drops below 50 percent. It is important to understand that higher concentrations of alcohol within a disinfectant do not necessarily generate more desirable effects against bacteria, viruses and fungi,” says Snyman.

Snyman offers the below tips when it comes to choosing a disinfectant:

First look at the tests done and accreditation status of the product - i.e. SABS or similar registration - as this confirms the validity of claims about the antimicrobial activity. The product must submit proof of efficacy to obtain this accreditation.

Don’t be too fixated on the concentrations of the various ingredients as this means little if not understood and evaluated in context of the product’s intended use e.g. hand sanitisers often contain additional products to prevent excessive drying of the skin while others need to be less corrosive to the surface they must be used on. All these properties are taken into consideration when products get their registration for use.

Only use a product for its labelled use as this will guarantee successful protection.

Select products which are non-irritating and do not trigger allergies or eczema if you are prone to be sensitive to colourants and fragrances. If your skin is particularly sensitive, use protective gloves when scrubbing and disinfecting surfaces.

Shop with a conscience. A sudden surge in the use of soaps and disinfectants could potentially harm the environment through polluting our water. As a responsible consumer, choose a product which contains biodegradable and environmentally ingredients and is not tested on animals.

When you buy your sanitiser, make sure it comes from a reputable source. There are a number of well-known, South African manufacturers that are reputable suppliers of products to the South African market.

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