The effectiveness of any compound as an aerial germicide depends upon the extent of condensation of its vapor on air-suspended bacteria, and on the rate at which the resulting concentration of germicide can produce death of the microorganisms.
The properties of any compound conducive to production of the highest rate of kill of air-borne microorganisms by means of the smallest possible concentration of germicide vapor, are as folows: (a) a low vapor pressure, but not lower than 0.001 mm. Hg at 25°C.; (b) high hygroscopicity; (c) toxicity for bacterial metabolism—a high degree of potency is not necessary although the killing action will be more efficient the higher the antibacterial activity of the compound employed.
For any compound the killing action is always a direct function of the concentration of its vapor in the air. The maximum amount of a hygroscopic substance which can exist in the vapor state decreases as the relative humidity increases. Hence, at high relative humidities the bactericidal efficiency is lowest. At lower relative humidities the air can contain more vapor, and hence a greater effect is possible. At any relative humidity, the killing action is greater, the more closely the germicide vapor concentration approaches the saturation point.
The presence of soluble compounds in droplets containing bacteria promotes more extensive condensation of the germicide than would otherwise occur, and so enhances its effectiveness.
In the absence of such soluble substances, low atmospheric humidities may cause complete desiccation of a bacterial particle. Under these conditions its surface may become resistant to the condensation of the vapor, and thus prevent effective germicidal action.
The influence of temperature changes on the killing efficiency maybe correctly deduced from a consideration of the effect of a rise in temperature on the vapor pressure of the germicide and on the rate of its bactericidal action in vitro.
Equations are presented for estimating quantitatively the magnitude of some of the effects discussed.