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Alcohols as Surface Disinfectants in Healthcare Settings

  • John M. Boyce (a1)

Isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol have been used as low-level disinfectants in healthcare settings for many years. Recent studies have found that ethyl alcohol inhibits protein synthesis in Escherichia coli by direct effects on ribosomes and RNA polymerase and that 60%–70% solutions have in vitro efficacy against murine norovirus, Ebola virus, and several coronaviruses. Alcohol prep pads or towelettes containing isopropyl or ethyl alcohol and water have been used primarily for disinfection of small noncritical items due to a concern regarding their rapid evaporation rates and associated short contact times. Sterile alcohol solutions are used mostly for disinfection of compounding pharmacies and controlled areas. One new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–registered cleaner/disinfectant formulation differs from other alcohol-based disinfectants by virtue of having a 30-second contact time for multiple pathogens and a toxicity rating of category IV. Multiple disinfectants containing ethyl alcohol and/or isopropyl alcohol combined with other active agents such as quaternary ammonium or phenolic compounds are widely used for disinfecting environmental surfaces in healthcare facilities.

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2018;39:323–328

Corresponding author
Address correspondence to John M. Boyce, MD, 62 Sonoma Ln, Middletown, CT 0645 (
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Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology
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