What Does Your Disinfectant Kill?

Rescue Expert Blog

The job of a disinfectant is to kill pathogens*.  But it can be confusing to keep track of what types of pathogens a disinfectant can kill. Here, we’ll break down what efficacy* claims mean, and how to know whether your facility is protected from the pathogens you’re worried about.

To start, here are some definitions that we’ll be referring to:

  • *Efficacy – the ability to a disinfectant to kill pathogens.
  • *Label claim – the list of pathogens that a disinfectant can kill (found on the product label). A disinfectant must follow a standardized test method at an EPA-approved facility to get a claim for each pathogen.
  • *Pathogen – An organism that causes disease in patients.

So, what types of pathogens do disinfectants kill? There are three main categories:

Category #1 – Viruses

Most pathogens that animals encounter are viruses. While most viruses can be killed by disinfectants, it’s important to know some are harder to kill than others. Specifically, non-enveloped viruses. They are the bad boys of the virus world, and are harder to kill than their little brother, the enveloped virus.

Here are a few examples of each:

  • Non-enveloped viruses – Canine parvovirus, Feline panleukopenia, Adenovirus, Feline calicivirus, Norovirus, Poliovirus = hard to kill


If a disinfectant can kill the bad big brother pathogens (non-enveloped) then it will be able to kill their little brother (enveloped) as well.

TIP #1: Look for a disinfectant with label claims* against at least one non-enveloped virus.

Think: Enveloped = Easy to kill; Non-enveloped = Not easy!

Category #2 – Bacteria

The other major type of pathogen is bacteria. Just like viruses, there are different types of bacteria, some of which are harder to kill than others.

  • Vegetative bacteria is the baby brother – most bacteria that your facility will encounter fall into this category. They are relatively easy to kill. Examples include Bordetella, Lepto, Salmonella and coli.
  • Mycobacteria is the middle brother – these bacteria are much harder to kill. Examples include Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium terrae.
  • Spore-forming bacteria is the bad big brother – This is the hardest category of pathogen because they’re much more resistant to their environment than their younger siblings. A special type of disinfectant, known as a sporicide, is recommended to kill these bacteria. Examples include Clostridium and Bacillus. Note: You won’t see these guys too often in animal health environments.


TIP #2: Look for a disinfectant with label claims against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Mycobacteria, as this means it will be able to kill most of the bacteria that are relevant to your facility.

Category #3 – Fungi

The last category of pathogen that disinfectants are designed to kill is fungi. Common fungal infections are ringworm and aspergillosis. These tend to be fairly hard to kill, though many disinfectants have claims against fungi.


TIP #3: Look for a disinfectant with label claims against Trichophyton mentagrophytes or Microsporum canis (both are types of ringworm), as this means it will kill most types of fungi you will encounter.

If ever in doubt about whether your disinfectant kills a certain type of pathogen – ask! Your disinfectant manufacturer would be happy to talk about whether your product is meeting your germ-killing needs. Otherwise, these basic rules will guide you in understanding whether your disinfectant is doing its job of killing the pathogens of concern.