Disinfectants and preservatives


Disinfectants and preservatives are chemical products that act against harmful microorganisms. Many products that are considered disinfectants and preservatives are classified as so-called biocides, which are a type of pesticide. You can read about what you should keep in mind when handling this type of chemical product here.

What are disinfectants and preservatives?

Disinfectants are agents that kill bacteria or other microorganisms. This can be, for example, hand sanitiser, products for disinfecting cutting boards and other kitchen utensils or agents that are added to the water in swimming pools. The purpose of disinfectants is to reduce the harm caused by and the spread of harmful microorganisms.

Preservatives are agents that counteract the growth of microorganisms. They can be added to textiles, paper, leather, food, detergents, cosmetics and other products to extend their shelf life and preserve their properties.

Regulations for disinfectants and preservatives

Many products that are considered disinfectants and preservatives are classified as so-called biocides. Biocides are a type of pesticide.

Disinfectants and preservatives are regulated by several different laws, depending on what they are used for. Disinfectants can therefore be either biocides, medicines, medical devices or cosmetic products. Preservatives can be, for example, various biocides, food additives or additives in cosmetics. The Swedish Chemicals Agency is responsible for the rules for the disinfectants and preservatives that are classified as biocides. The rules cover the manufacture, sale and use of the products.

Disinfectants and preservatives contain so-called active substances which give the products their properties as disinfectants or preservatives. The active substances used in biocides must be authorised for use in the EU, and the products themselves must also be approved. The rules are designed to ensure safety when using the substances, products and articles. The active substances can be harmful to health or the environment if used incorrectly.

Biocidal treated articles

Articles can be treated with disinfectants or preservatives to provide the articles with the desired properties. These articles include sportswear or shoes that are treated with disinfectant to counteract odours, and they can also be paint with added preservatives to increase the shelf-life and service life of the paint. For articles that are treated with biocidal products, there are special rules regarding labelling.

Read more about biocidal treated articles here

It is important to protect yourself and the environment

Read the labels on the products you intend to use and follow the instructions. This is important both to protect your health and the environment but also to get the best possible results from the use of the product. This also applies to treated articles.

Do you need to use disinfectants and preservatives?

On a case-by-case basis, you should consider whether you really need to use disinfectants or preservatives, as they can have negative side effects. An example of the negative side effects of disinfectants may be, for example, the suspicion that they contribute to increased resistance to antibiotics. An example of the negative side effects of preservatives is the risk that they will cause allergic reactions.

A disadvantage of using disinfectants and preservatives is that they can provide a false sense of assurance that that all of the microorganisms are gone.

Cleaning with warm water and regular detergents can be at least as effective and is usually cheaper.

You can reduce the need for preservatives by not buying products that have a long shelf life and by cleaning surfaces where you put food, for example. Another way to reduce the need for disinfectants and preservatives is to try to avoid moisture and heat. Bacteria and other microorganisms grow easily in warm, moist environments.

Last published 13 October 2021