Antiseptics - History of Antiseptics


Antiseptics were used for the first time by Doctor Joseph Lister, at the time a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1867, he began to clean his surgical tools with carbolic acid, which is now known as phenol. He also soaked bandages in it and placed it directly on wounds. At that time, even a small wound that got infected could cause death. Patients who had surgery would often die later as a result of infection of their wounds. Dr. Lister's advancement began a trend that led to modern clean and sterile surgery and wound care, which has saved millions of lives.

The first patient that was treated with a surface antiseptic was a seven-year-old boy whose leg had been hurt by a horse carriage. Dr. Lister soaked the boy's bandages in phenol, and kept the wound covered. He was very pleased to see that his antiseptic kept the boy's injuries free of infection, and allowed them to heal.

  • Dr. Lister read Louis Pasteur's work proving "germ theory", and the causes of infections, in 1865. This inspired Dr. Lister to find a way to keep wounds germ free.

  • Carbolic acid was used to reduce the smell of sewage, but the reason it worked was not known. Dr. Lister thought that the carbolic acid was killing the germs that produced the smell, which gave him the idea to try it as an antiseptic

  • The germ theory was not widely accepted until the late 1890s. By 1900, it was finally routine practice for doctors to wash their hands, sterilize their tools, clean wounds, and keep operating rooms clean.

  • Dr. Lister became the personal surgeon of Queen Victoria. He was knighted as Sir Joseph Lister in 1883, and became a Lord in 1897.

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