Decontamination vs. Disinfection: What’s the Difference?

Decontamination and disinfection are integral to the procedures of medical establishments. Both keep personnel, equipment, and bystanders from the harm of substances and materials that accumulates from usual hospital operations.

Apart from sterile processing technician skills, aspiring sterilization technicians should be well-educated about the differences between decontamination and disinfection.

What is Decontamination?

Decontamination is removing, neutralizing, or eliminating harmful substances from a surface, area, or object. This makes them safe to use, handle, or discard. Decontamination can be in the form of disinfection, sterilization, and antisepsis.

The following are examples of contaminants:

  • Hazardous wastes. These are byproducts from tests, experiments, or operations. It includes human waste.

  • Chemical hazards. These substances can cause health problems when inhaled, ingested, or exposed to unprotected individuals.

  • Radioactive materials. These unstable chemical substances can damage the cells of the body.

  • Microorganisms. These include algae, protozoa, molds, fungi, bacteria, archaea, and viruses that can cause sickness in individuals.

Importance of Decontamination:

The primary purpose of decontamination is to prevent harmful materials from negatively influencing people and events. Decontamination is especially vital to the operations of companies in the health industry to the extent that there are designated specialists for these tasks. Professionals, such as sterile processing techs are assigned to disinfect or sterilize lab equipment and areas in medical establishments to ensure they are safe to use.

What is Disinfection?

Disinfection is a form of decontamination. It is the process of eliminating pathogens (excluding spores) on inorganic objects or surfaces. Disinfecting does not necessarily require eliminating all microorganisms, unlike sterilization. It only needs to eradicate pathogenic organisms to reduce the risk of microbial contamination to an acceptable level.

The typical methods for disinfection are:

Chemical Disinfectants

  • Alcohol

  • Chlorine and chlorine compounds

  • Formaldehyde

  • Glutaraldehyde

  • Hydrogen peroxide

  • Iodophors

  • Ortho-Phthalaldehyde (OPA)

  • Peracetic acid

  • Peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide

  • Phenolics

  • Quaternary ammonium compounds

Miscellaneous Inactivating Agents

  • Other germicides

  • Metals as microbicides

  • Ultraviolet radiation

  • Pasteurization

  • Flushing- and washer-disinfectors

Most hospitals also set regulations and frameworks for the use of disinfectants.

Decontamination VS Disinfection

Numerous clinical activities are disrupted without proper decontamination and disinfection. This endangers the lives of those who require medical attention. Lab tests can become inaccurate and misleading, and patient care processes can potentially cause more harm than good to patients.

Decontamination and disinfection work together to keep people safe against contaminants, especially in health-related activities. The two protect personnel and patients in handling objects, using areas, and touching surfaces without the fear of being harmed.


Become a Sterile Processing Technician (SPT)

With the increasing need for decontamination specialists in medical establishments, sterile processing technicians are in high demand. Acquire the necessary skills and licensure to become a professional sterilization technician by enrolling in Martinson College.

Martinson College is a leading academic institution for health-allied career training schools specializing in Sterile Processing Technicians. With the growing need for certified SPTs, Martinson College offers quality, accelerated online programs for aspiring healthcare professionals.

To learn more about SPT, read the following articles: