I've read in Pommerville's (2016) Fundamentals of Microbiology (p. 314) that contrary to popular belief that disinfectants kill all germs, there are examples of disinfectants that were contaminated with germs which caused anything from a local infection to a body-wide infection leading to death, and so that the FDA was considering requiring sterile conditions for the manufacture of disinfectants.

Are there any concrete examples of such incidents of infected/contaminated disinfectants leading to infections? (The book has no citations in this regard.)

  • 1
    In addition to the paper I cited, in searching I found some examples of papers finding contamination around materials used for disinfecting in health care settings (dispensers and such) due to misuse/reuse/failure to clean, though not necessarily leading to any known infections. It seems like that textbook should be warning about that just as much, it unfortunately implies that manufacturing is the source instead, which isn't the most likely way for health care workers to be able to avoid issues in their own work.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 21:45

1 Answer 1


Outbreaks and pseudo-outbreaks related to contaminated germicides have most commonly been reported with contaminated antiseptics. Outbreaks from contaminated high-level disinfectants have rarely, if ever, been reported. Outbreaks from contaminated intermediate- and low-level disinfectants have occasionally been reported. All outbreaks associated with contaminated germicides have occurred due to gram-negative bacilli or mycobacteria.

  • Weber, D. J., Rutala, W. A., & Sickbert-Bennett, E. E. (2007). Outbreaks associated with contaminated antiseptics and disinfectants. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, 51(12), 4217-4224.

Weber et al suggest that the most common issues are with antiseptics rather than disinfectants, per se, where the distinction is that antiseptics are those applied to tissue and disinfectants are those applied to surfaces/inanimate objects. Indeed, your original source also refers to antiseptics rather than disinfectants.

The same chemicals can be used as either in different formulations, so that might lead to some confusion. The citation mentioned contains references to several particular incidents and tables detailing the likely cause; for several of the issues with antiseptics, it seems the contamination was traced to water used to dilute a disinfectant, improper storage, and contaminated bottles or tubing.

  • Somewhat not surprising since "low-level" disinfectants are not tested/certified against mycobacteria, only the "intermediate-level" ones are. Commented May 13, 2020 at 21:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.