Group of chemical compounds consisting of linear or branched hydrocarbon chains with one or several OH groups.
They are highly volatile, have a rapid effect, have low toxicity and serve as basic active ingredient in many disinfectants. Depending on the concentration and type, the alcohols' spectrum of activity comprises bacteria, fungi and enveloped and nonenveloped viruses. However, they have no effect on bacterial spores.
Alcohols with longer carbon chains yield a significantly higher disinfection efficacy. Today's disinfection only uses ethanol and propanols(1-propanol and 2-propanol) in different concentrations as active ingredient due to their water solubility. In spite of the excellent activity against most clinically relevant microorganisms, alcohols biodegrade quickly and completely.
Thanks to their unspecific mechanism of action, the use of alcohol does not cause resistance in bacteria: The alcohol molecules damage the outer cell membrane, penetrate the cytoplasm and destroy the inner structure of the cell molecules and of the cytoplasm's proteins. This process (referred to as denaturation) and the enzymes' coagulation leads to a loss of cellular activity and, finally, to the cell's death.