Guide to USP Disinfectants & Sporicides

Bacterial and fungal spores are one of the most pervasive and resilient microorganisms on earth. By definition, a sterile environment is 100% free of all microorganisms, including spores. This is essential for bioscience pharmaceutical facilities that require microbiologically clean environments under federally mandated decontamination procedures. Technologies and chemicals that provide disinfection and sterilization are abundant. The distinction between sterilization and disinfection is an important one. Sterilization methods require the elimination of all bacterial and fungal spores, while disinfection only addresses bacteria and viruses. Cleaning, sterilization, and disinfection are not synonymous.

In this post, we’ll outline the types of chemical disinfectants and sterilants used in cleanrooms and laboratories. This includes isopropyl alcohol, bleach, formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, and peracetic acid. 

Differences Between Sterilization, Disinfection, & Sporicidal Properties as defined by USP <1072>

Antiseptic—An agent that inhibits or destroys microorganisms on living tissue including skin, oral cavities, and open wounds.

Chemical Disinfectant—A chemical agent used on inanimate surfaces and objects to destroy infectious fungi, viruses, and bacteria, but not necessarily their spores. Sporicidal and antiviral agents are considered a special class of disinfectants.

Cleaning Agent—An agent for the removal from facility and equipment surfaces of product residues that may inactivate sanitizing agents or harbor microorganisms.

Decontamination—The removal of microorganisms by disinfection or sterilization.

Disinfectant—A chemical or physical agent that destroys or removes vegetative forms of harmful microorganisms when applied to a surface. Disinfectants are often categorized as high-level, intermediate-level, and low-level by medically oriented groups based on their efficacy against various microorganisms.

Sanitizing Agent—An agent for reducing, on inanimate surfaces, the number of all forms of microbial life including fungi, viruses, and bacteria.

Sporicidal Agent—An agent that destroys bacterial and fungal spores when used in sufficient concentration for a specified contact time. It is expected to kill all vegetative microorganisms.

Sterilant—An agent that destroys all forms of microbial life including fungi, viruses, and all forms of bacteria and their spores. Sterilants are liquid or vapor-phase agents. Microorganisms differ greatly in their resistance to disinfection agents. USP 1072 DISINFECTANTS AND ANTISEPTICS

Most Common Cleanroom Disinfectants, Bacteroides, Fungicides, Virucides, and Sporicides


Alcohol-based disinfectants are one of the most common solutions for hygiene and surface-based disinfection. Alcohols such as isopropyl and ethyl variations are most common for disinfection purposes. Specifically, a mixture of water content is crucial to provide virucidal properties. One of the most common disinfectants, Isopropyl Alcohol in a 70% concentration, is impressive for nullifying bacteria and viruses, but generally ineffective against spores. Cleanroom facilities often look to more intensive chemicals. There are some complications related to the use of alcohols for cleaning and disinfection. Odors, irritation, impurities, and inability to kill bacterial and fungal spores make it ineffective when a sporicidal capacity is needed. Problematically, alcohols may be developing enterococcal-based resistance in healthcare facilities.

A new study published in August 2018 from Science Transition Medicine, shows a pronounced growth in bacterial resistant to alcohol-based disinfectants. 70% alcohol-based scrubs are a cornerstone of disinfection for hand washing, but also as a surface treatment for both general and critical spaces. When compared with data collected on E. faecium isolates between 1997 and 2015, newer isolates showed 10x more tolerance to alcohol than those previous to 2010.

We’ve previously covered a number of topics in relation to isopropyl alcohol (IPA):


Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic chemical used for decades during decontamination procedures and embalming procedures. It’s relatively inexpensive and simple to use with basic equipment. Because it’s a gas, it penetrates deeply into the nooks, corners, below furniture, and throughout ventilation systems. Formaldehyde cycles require long periods of downtime in the absence of personnel after application. It leaves behind residues such as paraformaldehyde or methenamine which must be laboriously cleaned away. Formaldehyde use in cleanrooms requires carbon activated absorption filters when discharged through cleanroom air filtration systems.


Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is powerful and cost-effective biocide that’s common across almost every industry due to its ability to kill nearly all types of microorganisms including fungal spores. Chlorine bleach is common in nearly every production or healthcare environment at concentrations between 0.05% – 6% concentrations. Trace metals and others contaminants reduce its stability, as does sunlight. When mixed with acidic substances such as other cleaners or ammonia, a toxic chlorine gas forms. Bleach should always be used with consideration for proper protective equipment and ventilation.

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)

Liquid hydrogen peroxide is a common chemical known for its sterilization and sporicidal properties. For cleanroom sterilization, a vaporized mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water is common. This chemical is also common for presaturated cleanroom wipes. For cleanroom wipedown, a surface must be cleaned first with a detergent, and then wiped with deionized water before application. It’s important that the surface is clean, as residual soils or detergents may limit bactericidal action. A key benefit of hydrogen peroxide is that it decomposes to oxygen and water and therefore leaves no residuals. Notably, a final rinse is still important to remove any endotoxins, which are shed after gram-negative bacteria die and present significant health risks.

Peracetic acid (CH3COOOH)

A chemical reaction between acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide forms peracetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component in vinegar.

Peracetic acid (peroxyacetic) works rapidly against microorganisms, before harmlessly decomposing with no residual residue. It is an effective sporicide even in the presence of organic matter at low temperatures, leaving behind a harmless solution of acetic acid, water, oxygen (hydrogen peroxide).

These characteristics make it a common biocide for steam and cold sterilization applications such as endoscopes, arthroscopes, surgical tools, dental instruments, and more.

Peracetic acid is known to be corrosive on copper, brass, bronze, plain steel, and galvanized iron. Most critical environments only deploy stainless steel furnishings, but when considering chemical use it is advantageous to consult the manufacturer or a cleanroom specialist.

Demystifying Cleanroom Foggers

Dry foggers provide economical fogging solutions for smaller facilities of up to 900 sq. ft. and full-scale systems for facilities as large as 35,000 sq. ft. Every cleanroom application is different. Because these systems improve outcomes for operators and environments, they are used in limitless applications from agriculture and food processing to sterile bio-medical environments.

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Mitch Walleser

Mitch Walleser

Mitch works with manufacturing engineers and product specialists to examine new technology and products. His background includes 3D printing, electronics and cleanroom manufacturing. Stay up to date with new insights on automated production solutions by following on Twitter. @Go_to_PAC

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