Chemical Disinfectants & Sterilants – Reproductive Health

Working with chemical disinfectants and sterilants (sometimes also referred to as high-level disinfectants) during pregnancy could increase your chances of having a miscarriage or preterm birth. In this section, we talk about chemical disinfectants used in workplaces including health care and beauty salons. Here, you can learn more about working with disinfectants and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.

What are chemical disinfectants?

  • Chemical disinfectants and sterilants are used in workplaces such as healthcare facilities and beauty salons to kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites on equipment that cannot be sterilized using high heat.
  • Examples of high-level disinfectants include: ethylene oxide gas, hydrogen peroxide gas plasma, glutaraldehyde, orthophthalaldehyde, peracetic acid, and formaldehyde.
  • High level disinfectants are not the same as most common household disinfectants (for example, surface sprays containing quaternary ammonium compound disinfectants or bleach). Common household disinfectants used by adults according to directions are generally not considered hazardous.

Why should I be concerned about exposure?

  • We know that some studies have shown a higher risk of miscarriages and preterm birth with healthcare workers who were exposed to chemical disinfectants and sterilizing agents.
  • We do not know what levels of these agents are safe for pregnant women.

Who is exposed to disinfectants?

  • Healthcare workers
  • Hospital staff
  • Veterinary workers
  • Nail, hair, and beauty salon workers

What is not known?

  • We don’t know what causes most miscarriages or preterm birth. If you work with disinfectants and have a miscarriage or preterm birth, we often can’t tell if it was caused by working with disinfectants or if it was caused by something else.
  • We don’t know what levels of chemical disinfectants and sterilants are safe. Try to reduce or eliminate your exposure as much as possible.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate exposure?

Where can I get more information?