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Infection prevention and control guidelines

4. Aseptic technique

Skin disinfection (asepsis)

      1. Skin disinfection (asepsis)

Last revised: 18 Aug 2023

Skin disinfection (asepsis)


Agents used for skin asepsis in healthcare practices (‘skin disinfectants’) kill, and temporarily reduce, microorganisms on the skin.

Their use is appropriate for reducing the number of resident microorganisms on the skin in the following situations:

  • when the level of microbial contamination is high (such as when managing open or contaminated wounds)
  • when persistent antimicrobial activity is desired (such as during invasive procedures or surgery)
  • before intravascular or joint or body cavity penetration
  • before skin puncture (eg acupuncture)
  • before intrathecal injection or similar (essential)
  • for identified vulnerable groups before intradermal, subcutaneous or intramuscular injection (non-essential for non-vulnerable groups).

Practices must follow the guidance of the Australian immunisation handbook on skin hygiene when preparing the person receiving the vaccine.

Skin disinfectants may compromise wound healing.5

Agents used in skin asepsis (skin disinfectants)

Agents sold as skin disinfectants are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and are labelled according to their appropriate use. They must be used according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Skin disinfectants must be appropriate to the site. Some disinfectants are irritant to mucous membranes (eg alcohol) and some cause nerve damage (eg chlorhexidine can cause sensorineural deafness if used in the middle ear).