Safer sterilants and disinfectants


Sterilants and disinfectants used on surfaces, medical devices, and all items that come in contact with patients are an absolute necessity for infection control in any hospital.

The two most commonly used sterilants and disinfectants for medical devices in health care also have unwanted side effects for the health care workers who use them. They are:

  • ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen; and
  • glutaraldehyde, with reported side effects experienced by health care workers, such as breathing difficulties, rashes, headaches and nosebleeds.

Both the use and disposal of toxic sterilants and disinfectants are areas for concern for all hospitals and health systems. By conducting a thorough assessment of where and why these chemicals are used, it’s possible to reduce their use and find alternatives by:

  • infection prevention and environmental services collaborating to identify areas where disinfectants can safely be minimized or eliminated;
  • creating categories of infection risk such as critical, semi-critical, or noncritical and;
  • matching infection risk to a list of sterilants and disinfectants based on their category of effective potency.

Our member hospitals have reduced the use of the most harmful sterilants and disinfectants by drilling down into sterilization and disinfection practices and finding areas that can be safely treated using less toxic chemicals, without compromising infection prevention for patients, employees, and visitors. In addition to reducing potentially harmful exposures, there is the potential to reduce expensive hazardous waste disposal of sterilizing and disinfecting chemicals.  

Practice Greenhealth offers resources to help our members develop a sterilant and disinfectant management plan. Our goal is to provide step-by-step resources that will make it simpler for any hospital to design, implement, and measure the success of their chemical reduction efforts.

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