Glutaraldehyde is an organic compound with the formula CH2(CH2CHO)2. It forms colorless crystals, is soluble in water, alcohol, ether and similar organic solvents. It is available most frequently as a 50% aqueous solution. As a 2% water solution it is used as a cold sterilizer of medical equipment, particularly of articles that cannot be sterilized by physical means, such as bronchoscopes and endoscopes. It is also used by patients at home for sterilizing their artificial kidneys. Glutaraldehyde has antifungal properties and has been used for herpes and pseudomonas infections. The mechanism of action of glutaraldehyde affects DNA, RNA and protein synthesis of microbial organisms. It is effective in killing nonsporing bacteria in 2 minutes, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, fungi and bacteria in 10 minutes, and spores of Bacillus and Clostridia species in 3 hours. Aueous solutions of glutaraldehyde are acid, and are considered less active than are alkaline ones.2

Glutaraldehyde has been found to be toxic to cold and warm water aquatic organisms and slightly more toxic to freshwater fish. Substituting glutaraldehyde with other chemicals with similar properties could help reduce impact on surrounding and aquatic environment. Medical tools not properly cleansed may have residue that may cause adverse rection in patients. Abdominal pain, diarrhea and rectal bleeding may be symptoms in patients receiving either endoscopy or colonoscopy from a scope containing glutaraldehyde.3


  1. Fisher's Contact Dermatitis. Robert L. Rietschel, Joseph F. Fowler, Alexander A. Fisher
  2. Encyclopedia of Environmental Science and Engineering. James R. Pfafflin, Edward N. Ziegler
  3. Hamilton and Hardy's Industrial Toxicology. Raymond D. Harbison, Marie M. Bourgeois, Giffe T. Johnson