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Disinfectants are antimicrobial agents that are applied to non-living objects to destroy microorganisms that are living on the objects. Disinfection does not necessarily kill all microorganisms, especially resistant bacterial spores; it is less effective than sterilization, which is an extreme physical and/or chemical process that kills all types of life. Disinfectants are different from other antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics, which destroy microorganisms within the body, and antiseptics, which destroy microorganisms on living tissue. Disinfectants are also different from biocides — the latter are intended to destroy all forms of life, not just microorganisms. Disinfectants work by destroying the cell wall of microbes or interfering with the metabolism. Sanitizers are substances that simultaneously clean and disinfect. Disinfectants are frequently used in hospitals, dental surgeries, kitchens, and bathrooms to kill infectious organisms. Bacterial endospores are most resistant to disinfectants, but some viruses and bacteria also possess some tolerance. In wastewater treatment, a disinfection step with chlorine, ultra-violet (UV) radiation or ozonation can be included as tertiary treatment to remove pathogens from wastewater, for example if it is to be reused to irrigate golf courses. An alternative term used in the sanitation sector for disinfection of waste streams, sewage sludge or faecal sludge is sanitization.

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