What Is A “Quat Cleaner”?

For our purposes, “quat disinfectant cleaner” is a shorthand term for a type of chemical known as a quaternary ammonium salt.  You can see why the shorthand version of “quat cleaner“ or just “quat” is useful for ease of speaking and writing, but it unfortunately doesn’t communicate much about what it is exactly to the uninitiated.  Put in the simplest terms, a quat is a complex organic salt compound that finds multiple applications in the modern world.  Despite the similarity in naming, a quat is NOT and does NOT contain either ammonia or the true ammonium ion, both of which have been written about extensively in other posts which you can review.  The naming convention comes from some chemical structure similarities to these other molecules, but again does not mean that they are actually contained in a quat.
Quat Ammonium
There are literally hundreds of these salts in existence and in common use in today’s world.  A review of the ingredients of most any household product will reveal their presence, if you know what to look for in terms of names.  Unfortunately for the curious, most of the time the names given do not include the term quat or quaternary ammonium salt but instead use complex and lengthy chemical names commonly associated with these complex and large molecules.

Quaternary ammonium salt compounds are commonly used in the following applications:

  • Antimicrobial disinfectants (healthcare, agriculture, and food service grade, but also available to householders.  MoldStat plus is in this category)
  • Surfactants (compounds that make it easier to loosen or dissolve solids into liquids, commonly used in cleaners to release dirt into watery solutions)
  • Fabric softeners (liquid for use in washing machines and also dry form for use in dryer sheets)
  • Antistatic agents (usually found in shampoos for this purpose)
  • Other applications (ranging from compounds necessary for survival to herbicides, the list is lengthy)

It is important to note that the salts used in one application will not necessarily be effective in other applications for which a related, but different, quat is useful.  For example, dryer sheets (sulfur containing quaternary ammonium salts) will not act as antimicrobials (long alkyl chain quaternary ammonium salts).


  1. David Frederick
  2. Resident Guru

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