Is phenol a disinfectant

phenolAuxiliary materialsDisinfectantsPhenolsPhenol is the simplest representative from the group of phenols. It is a benzene that is substituted with a hydroxyl group. Phenol is a toxic and corrosive substance that was previously used as a disinfectant. Today it is hardly used for this anymore. However, phenol is an important structural element in many active pharmaceutical ingredients.

synonym: PhenolumPhEur, Phenolum liquefactumPH, carbolic acid, carbolic acid, carbol, carbol, C6H6O, acidum carbolicum


Phenol is available from specialist dealers to specialists.

Structure and properties

Phenol (C.6H6O, Mr = 94.1 g / mol) is in the form of crystals or as a crystalline mass with a typical odor. It is a volatile, hygroscopic and deliquescent substance that is colorless or pale pink to yellowish in color. Phenol is soluble in water. Liquefied phenol (Phenolum liquefactum) is a mixture of phenol with water. The melting point is 40.8 ° C.

Phenol consists of a benzene ring that bears a hydroxyl group instead of a hydrogen atom. It is the simplest representative from the group of → phenols. Phenol has slightly acidic properties with a pKa of around 10. It is much more acidic than alcohols and can be deprotonated with sodium hydroxide, for example. This creates sodium phenolate. The anion is known as phenolate or phenoxide.

Reaction of phenol with sodium hydroxide, click to enlarge. Illustration © PharmaWiki

Phenol is a good substrate for electrophilic aromatic substitution in O- and pPosition, for example for halogenation or nitration. Phenol can also act as a nucleophile and it can be esterified.

Nitration of phenol with dilute nitric acid, click to enlarge. Illustration © PharmaWiki


Phenol (ATC D08AE03) has disinfecting (antiseptic) and caustic properties.

application areas

Due to its toxicity, phenol is rarely used as a disinfectant today.

unwanted effects

Phenol is a toxic substance with an oral lethal dose in the range of 20 to 30 g. In the event of improper handling, it can cause severe burns to the skin and the respiratory tract and serious damage to the eyes. It can presumably cause genetic defects. Phenol is toxic if swallowed, in contact with skin and if inhaled.

see also

Liquefied phenol, Castellani solution, phenols

  • Pharmaceutical product information (CH)
  • European Pharmacopoeia PhEur
  • Specialist literature
  • Chemistry textbooks
  • Pharmacopoea Helvetica
  • Safety data sheet (CH)

Conflicts of Interest: None / Independent. The author has no relationships with the manufacturers and is not involved in the sale of the products mentioned.

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This article was last changed on 11/21/2020.
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