Study of the hormetic effect of disinfectants chlorhexidine, povidone iodine and benzalkonium chloride

  • L. Morales-Fernández
  • M. Fernández-Crehuet
  • M. Espigares
  • E. Moreno
  • E. Espigares


The study of the dose–response relationship of disinfectants is of great importance in treating infection, the objective being to use concentrations above the minimal bactericidal concentration (MBC). Below these concentrations, the bacteriostatic or bactericidal effect may be insufficient. Moreover, at low concentrations, a hormetic effect may be observed, producing a stimulation of growth instead of inhibitory action. Hormesis is not well known in the context of antimicrobial substances. This study investigates the possible existence of a hormetic effect in three commonly used antiseptics—chlorhexidine digluconate, povidone iodine and benzalkonium chloride—on strains of reference of Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Growth curves were determined for different concentrations of the disinfectants. The variables studied—concentration of disinfectant, instantaneous growth rate and number of generations—were analysed using linear, quadratic and cubic models to adjust for the variables. The three disinfectants tested show a significant hormetic effect with P. aeruginosa and a less significant effect with S. aureus. These findings point to a dose–response effect that is not linear at low concentrations, while hormetic effects observed at some low concentrations result in greater bacterial growth. In infected wounds, materials or surfaces where microorganisms may occupy zones of difficult access for a disinfectant, the hormetic effect may have important consequences.


Growth Curve Minimal Bactericidal Concentration Povidone Iodine Enrofloxacin Benzalkonium Chloride 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank César Criado Sánchez, laboratory technician of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Granada, Spain, for his invaluable help in making this study possible. We also thank Jean Louise Sanders for translating and editing the manuscript.


This study was partially financed by the Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Epidemiología y Salud Pública (CIBERESP), Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Spain).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. Morales-Fernández
    • 1
  • M. Fernández-Crehuet
    • 1
  • M. Espigares
    • 1
  • E. Moreno
    • 1
  • E. Espigares
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of GranadaGranadaSpain

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