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Antiseptics, disinfectants, and sterilants are a diverse group of antimicrobials used to prevent infection (Table 102–1). Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably and some of these xenobiotics are used for both antisepsis and disinfection, the distinguishing characteristics between the groups are important to emphasize. An antiseptic is a chemical that is applied to living tissue to kill or inhibit microorganisms. Iodophors, chlorhexidine, and the alcohols (ethanol and isopropanol) are commonly used antiseptics. A disinfectant is a chemical or physical agent that is applied to inanimate objects to kill microorganisms. Bleach (sodium hypochlorite), phenolic compounds, and formaldehyde are examples of currently used disinfectants. Neither antiseptics nor disinfectants have complete sporicidal activity. A sterilant is a chemical or physical process that is applied to inanimate objects to kill all microorganisms as well as spores. Ethylene oxide and glutaraldehyde are examples of sterilants. Not unexpectedly many of the xenobiotics used to kill microorganisms also demonstrate considerable human toxicity.17,60

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Table 102–1. Antiseptics, Disinfectants, Sterilants, and Related Xenobiotics

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