Glossary of Cleaning Terms


a material that prevents or slows the growth of pathogens. Usually refers to a solid, liquid, or gel that is applied to a person’s body, or less frequently, an inanimate object. When a person is given an injection, the alcohol wipe applied to the skin is an antiseptic.
drug that fights microbial infection, or more broadly, a chemical, radiation source, or process that inhibits growth of microbes, especially pathogens. Includes antibiotics (which stop the growth of bacteria) and antifungals (which stop the growth of fungi).
surfactant material that is not soap. Chemical with wetting emulsifying properties. Some detergents are water-soluble and some are soluble in organic liquid. All facilitate wetting and cleaning by having hydrophobic and hydrophilic sections. They permit formation of micelles and hence are “emulsifying agents”.
material or process that kills most pathogens, but not to the extent that a sterilant does.
anything that kills germs. covers chemicals given to living bodies (antibiotics and antiseptics) and chemicals used on inanimate objects and buildings (sanitizers, disinfectants, and sterilizers.)
material or process that kills or deactivates bacteria, bacterial spores, fungi, and viruses. The implication is that the surface or object exposed to the sterilization process will not give rise to life, although in actual practice, sterilization usually means a high percentage of pathogens are destroyed.


class of organic compounds. When used in an industrial, medical, or hygiene context, the word is too vague. Specific compounds are named. When you see a chemical that has a name ending in “ol”, it is an alcohol. The type of alcohol in beverages is called ethanol or ethyl alcohol. A common rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol). Many alcohols are used in cleaning preparations.
electrolyzed water
can be produced on-site so chemical does not have to be shipped into facility.
ethyl alcohol - one of the simplest alcohols, widely found in alcoholic beverages. Has antiseptic properties at high enough concentrations (wine is not concentrated enough), but rarely used in the clinic. Commercial preparations for disinfection are over 50 percent ethanol by volume with the rest water.
Formaldehyde (CH2O)
can be used as disinfectant as it kills bacteria and fungi. Also acts as a preservative.
isopropyl alcohol - C3H8O - common alcohol used in the home and in the clinic (rubbing alcohol).
C6H4(CHO)2 - high-level disinfectant for medical instruments
also called para-chloro-meta-xylenol (PCMX). C8H9ClO - alcohol compound used as (1) an antiseptic, and (2) disinfectant for facilities and equipment. Commercial preparations of Chloroxylenol are usually in a solution with water, and often with isopropyl alcohol, surfactants, and oils.
carbolic acid - C6H5OH - chemical with many uses, including as a feed for synthesis of more complex compounds. Sometimes employed as an antiseptic, although not as often as it was in the past.
2-isopropyl-5-methylphenol, IPMP) C10H14O - alcohol chemically similar to phenol. Used as an antiseptic. The name comes from the herb thyme, which the compound was first derived from.