[ dis-in-fekt ]
/ ˌdɪs ɪnˈfɛkt /
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See synonyms for: disinfect / disinfected / disinfection on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object)
to cleanse (rooms, wounds, clothing, etc.) of infection; destroy disease germs in.
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Origin of disinfect

First recorded in 1590–1600; from Middle French desinfecter, equivalent to des- dis-1 + infecter “to die, taint, poison”; see infect


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does disinfect mean?

Disinfect means to clean something of infection by killing or preventing the growth of disease-causing germs, as in You want to disinfect your countertop after having raw meat on it to kill harmful bacteria like E. coli.

Disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses (often referred to as germs) can live on surfaces or enter into open wounds. When you disinfect something, you are either directly killing the germs or making it harder for the germs to spread or survive.

The noun disinfection refers to the act of disinfecting, as in The contaminated clothing was marked for disinfection. 

A chemical that is used to disinfect something is referred to as a disinfectant. Bleach is commonly used as a disinfectant in households.

Example: The janitor disinfected the table using a cleaning chemical designed to kill germs.

Where does disinfect come from?

The first records of the word disinfect come from around 1590. It comes from the Middle French desinfecter, made from the negative prefix des- and the verb infecter, meaning “to die, taint, or poison.” To disinfect is to prevent germs from doing this.

Viruses and bacteria, which can cause diseases, are often able to survive outside the body on skin or surfaces. These organisms can then spread as people touch the contaminated surfaces, allowing the organisms to infect their bodies. Similarly, open wounds are not protected by the skin, so organisms are free to enter the body.

To counteract this, we clean surfaces and wounds with chemicals that kill or repel these harmful microorganisms. We typically use hand soaps for skin and cleaning supplies for other surfaces. Regularly cleaning your home—and yourself!— is an important part of staying healthy.

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How is disinfect used in real life?

Disinfect is a word people often use when discussing cleaning or cleanliness. You’re especially likely to hear disinfect during flu season or when a contagious disease is spreading.

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Is disinfect used correctly in the following sentence?

The door handle became disinfected by germs after the sick man touched it and spread them onto it.

How to use disinfect in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for disinfect

/ (ˌdɪsɪnˈfɛkt) /

(tr) to rid of microorganisms potentially harmful to man, esp by chemical means

Derived forms of disinfect

disinfection, noundisinfector, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012