What’s the reason of hospital smell?

Ever stepped into a hospital, and immediately noticed the curious smell? It’s not the smell of disease, but of a particular disinfectant that hospitals prefer to use. This disinfectant is iodoform.


Iodoform is a compound of carbon, hydrogen and iodine, with the formula CHI3. It is used in hospitals and clinics as a mild disinfectant for cleaning the floors of the wards, corridors etc. It is not as strong-smelling as other disinfectants, which may disturb patients.

It can also be used as an antiseptic for treating skin infections, sores, bruises, boils, burns etc. When applied on the skin, iodoform decomposes to release iodine. It is iodine which acts as the actual antiseptic, killing bacteria and fungi. Iodoform is also safer than other antiseptics if it is accidentally swallowed.

Decline in use

Nowadays, newer kinds of antiseptics and disinfectants are available. These kill bacteria, fungi, insect larvae and worms much more effectively than iodoform. They also do not smell at all. Therefore modern hospitals are switching over to these antiseptics. And example is cetrimide (commonly sold as Savlon).

However iodoform is still useful in drug factories, where it is used as an intermediate in making many kinds of drug molecules.