Skip to main content
All Posts By

Avery Guibord

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds


Q: What are Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs or QUATs)?

A: QACs are a group of chemicals used for a variety of purposes including as preservatives, surfactants, antistatic agents and as active ingredients for disinfectants and sanitizers.

Q: What products are they used in?

A: QACs can be found in commercial and consumer products such as disinfectant wipes, disinfectant sprays and liquids, laundry disinfectants and sanitizers, and surface cleaners.  These products are used in households, hospitals, medical, food service, food and beverage processing, and other institutional sites. Quats may also be used in cosmetics, lotions, contact lens cleaning solution and nasal sprays as a preservative, and even used in some first aid sprays to help prevent infection from minor wounds.

Q: Why are they important ingredients?

A: Quats are excellent antimicrobial agents. By themselves, they are odorless, non-staining and non-corrosive to metals when used according to directions. Products formulated with quat active ingredients have been rigorously tested using guideline studies and shown to be effective at killing a wide variety of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Q: Are QACs safe?

A: Canadians can be confident that these products are safe when used according to label directions. These common and effective ingredients are used in approved products that provide protection to Canadians through proper use of disinfectants in the home, by medical staff in hospitals and in other institutions such as nursing homes and schools. Quats have been studied extensively using stringent testing standards and guidelines to demonstrate to global regulatory authorities that they can be utilized safely when used as directed. The science behind quat safety is periodically re-reviewed by these global regulatory authorities and, when necessary, additional data is generated to keep the information up to date with most current requirements and address any new questions that arise over time.

Q: Are products containing QACs regulated by Health Canada?

A: Yes. Products including disinfectants, pest control products and cleaners are regulated by Health Canada. Disinfectant products are considered drugs and regulated under the purview of the Food and Drug Act and Regulations, while pest control products, including sanitizers, are regulated at the Pest Management Regulatory Agency under the Pest Control Products Act. These products undergo rigorous scientific evaluation as part of their pre-market assessment. Domestic cleaning products regulated under the Canadian Consumer Product Safety Act are labelled with appropriate symbols and directions to support safe use under the Consumer Chemical and Containers Regulations 2001.

Disinfectants and cleaning products intended for the workplace are regulated under the Hazardous Product Act and Regulations and require labelling to identify risks associated with chronic exposure. Pest control products, disinfectant and cleaning product regulatory frameworks include robust incident reporting requirements. Health Canada collects and analyses this data on a continuous basis to identify safety signals and trends related to product use.

Q: Should I be concerned about antibiotic resistance?

A: No. While a recent study suggests that quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) used in specific products may have adverse environmental and human health impacts and links to antimicrobial resistance, the paper has many flaws. The policy recommendations stemming from this study did not take into account the robust and science-based regulatory frameworks that govern these ingredients and products in Canada. The paper offers numerous “policy recommendations” that are not applicable to the Canadian legislative and regulatory landscape. The recommendations focus on reduction of use without considering Canadian safety measures already in place. Other statements in the media also suggest links to antimicrobial resistance, but this discourse is common among all approved and effective antimicrobials. It is important to note that antimicrobial resistance should be differentiated from antibiotic resistance and that quats are not used as antibiotics. No microbial resistance has been reported against Quat based disinfectants or sanitizers when they are used as directed on the product label.