Difference Between Aseptic and Sterile Conditions : Pharmaceutical Guidelines

Difference Between Aseptic and Sterile Conditions

Aseptic and sterile conditions are different from each other because one should free form pathogens and other should free from microbes. read the articles for details.
The difference between "aseptic" and "sterile" is not always properly understood. These terms, which can be obviously used in a medical setting, also apply to the safekeeping of food and other perishable goods that can be attacked by bacteria, fungi or viruses. In a pharmaceutical context, it is very important to know which is which and what they represent medically. They sound similar but cannot be mixed up or will put a sensible product at risk.


Aseptic and sterile go hand in hand. The common point between the two terms is that they are both techniques that strive to get rid of microscopic organisms that can be harmful and risk the safety of an environment, a liquid, a wound or a tool among other things. To truly get the specific characteristics of the two and how they can work together, it's essential to understand what each word means.

Aseptic means something has been made contamination-free, that it will not reproduce or create any kind of harmful living microorganisms (bacteria, viruses and others). Sterile describes a product that is entirely free of all germs. Basically, one is the removal of anything that could contaminate an area, whereas the other doesn't discriminate bacteria or germs and has none at all.

What it is in more practical terms is that someone will want aseptic conditions if they need to keep a tool, a room or any product free of contamination- not make it sterile, but just keep and uphold the product to a standard that won't duplicate bacteria or create more viruses. The aseptic technique will maintain a product safe, for example in food processing with a cold chain.

In the sterilized technique, every bacteria, harmful or helpful, is meant to be destroyed. This technique is used to reach an environment free of all living microorganisms, for example with the tools used for a surgical operation that cannot afford to have any kind of bacteria reaching an open wound and being a safety and health hazard.
Related: Why do HEPA Filters have 0.3 Micron Pore Size?

The technique to reach aseptic conditions is more specific, rigorous, detailed and thus complex. It requires knowing which viruses or bacteria are harmful to the product at hand, and how to remove them while keeping helpful microorganisms intact. Sterilizing can be done in many different ways that are more accessible since it has no need to preserve any living organisms, and is more "brutal". Because of its radical nature, sterilized conditions are often aimed at medical tools and not reproduced on a bigger scale. Aseptic conditions demand wider sets of hygienic rules whose goals are to limit the risks of infections in an environment that is impossible to sterilize entirely (for example, a hospital waiting room).

To sum it up with a metaphor, if sterile conditions look more like an attack, aseptic conditions are themselves a lot more like a barrier. Aseptic conditions can include sterilization, but the opposite is untrue. One is passive, the other aggressive, and in this difference lies the subtlety between the two terms.





Ankur Choudhary is India's first professional pharmaceutical blogger, author and founder of Pharmaceutical Guidelines, a widely-read pharmaceutical blog since 2008. Sign-up for the free email updates for your daily dose of pharmaceutical tips.
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