Isopropyl alcohol, particularly in solutions between 60% and 90% alcohol with 10 – 40% purified water, is rapidly antimicrobial against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Once alcohol concentrations drop below 50%, usefulness for disinfection drops sharply. Notably, higher concentrations of alcohol don’t generate more desirable bactericidal, virucidal, or fungicidal properties.
The presence of water is a crucial factor in destroying or inhibiting the growth of pathogenic microorganisms with isopropyl alcohol. Water acts as a catalyst and plays a key role in denaturing the proteins of vegetative cell membranes. 70% IPA solutions penetrate the cell wall more completely which permeates the entire cell, coagulates all proteins, and therefore the microorganism dies. Extra water content slows evaporation, therefore increasing surface contact time and enhancing effectiveness. Isopropyl alcohol concentrations over 91% coagulate proteins instantly. Consequently, a protective layer is created which protects other proteins from further coagulation.
Solutions > 91% IPA do kill bacteria, but sometimes require longer contact times for disinfection, and enable spores to lie in a dormant state without being killed. In this analysis, a 50% isopropyl alcohol solution kills Staphylococcus Aureus in less than 10 seconds (pg. 238), yet a 90% solution with a contact time of over two hours is ineffective. Some disinfectants will kill spores, which are classified as chemical sterilants.
Some bacteria transform into spore cells when external conditions are unfavorable; the result is reduced metabolic activity, higher ‘cidal’ resistance, and immunity from alcohol-based disinfectants. Spores lie dormant, and once conditions become favorable again, the microbe converts back to a vegetative state and grows actively. When examining the effectiveness of IPA, accurately translating its benefits and shortcomings require distinctions of identity, purity, sterility, and intended use. Disinfection, unlike sterilization, does not provide sporicidal attributes.
Proper Uses of Isopropyl Alcohol Require Distinction Between Sanitation, Sterilization, and Disinfection
Isopropyl alcohol is excluded from classification as a high-level disinfectant because of its inability to eradicate bacterial spores and hydrophilic viruses such as polio. Its low-level categorization outlines effectiveness for cleanroom wipedown for disinfecting tools and packaging that must pass into ultra-clean spaces.
70% isopropyl alcohol upholds key requirements for use as a bactericidal in cleanrooms or medical facilities, but also for general purposes. 70% IPA/30% water solutions produce less vapor and odor, therefore reducing risks of toxic fumes or combustion. When isopropyl alcohol reacts with air, light, and oxygen, it forms unstable peroxides which increase the likeliness of explosion, especially when heated with aluminum. IPA volatility increases with storage time and alcohol concentration, especially when exposed to light over multiple years after opening.
70% IPA is less flammable but also offers a more economical price point for general wipe down and large-surface disinfection. Likewise, high-moisture alcohols evaporate slower and increase contact time without becoming immediately dry.
Is Isopropyl Alcohol Effective Against Fungus and Fungal Spores?
Isopropyl alcohol may be intermittently effective against fungus but it is not effective against fungal spores. Treatment of mold and fungus is generally considered a problem of moisture and humidity. Applying a surface level cleaner may have little or no effect on fungal removal. Bleach and hydrogen peroxide are more commonly associated with remedying mold and fungus outbreaks.
Originally posted at PAC
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