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The Difference Between Disinfecting, Sanitizing and Cleaning

Cleaning is not sanitizing. Sanitizing is not disinfecting. Although the terms are often used synonymously, there is a significant difference among the three.


While cleaners will help make your surfaces look nice and shiny, there are some places at home (like your kitchen counters, faucet handles, and doorknobs) where you want to follow up your cleaning with a sanitizer or a disinfectant. Cleaning by itself won’t kill germs like bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

What’s the difference?

Cleaning is the process of removing visible debris, dirt, and dust and organizing a space. Cleaning a surface uses soap or detergent and usually water, to remove soil and germs through chemical (cleaner), mechanical (scrubbing), and thermal (water temperature) action.

Cleaning may or may not kill bacteria and germs, but it will dilute their numbers and aid in lowering the risk of spreading infectious microbes.


Sanitizing is a chemical process that lessens and even kills germs on surfaces to make them safe for contact. Usually you sanitize in kitchens and other areas that come into contact with food. For example, you sanitize dishes and utensils after using them. You also sanitize toys that children put in their mouths.


Disinfecting requires a stronger solution to destroy germs rather than simply reduce them. You might disinfect areas where you change a baby’s diaper. Hospitals disinfect areas that have come into contact with blood or other body fluids.

Should You Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect?

Cleaning should be a routine process that occurs on a daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal basis. Basic housekeeping maintains order, reduces the growth of potentially harmful organisms, helps keep pests under control and protects the investment you’ve made in your home and belongings.


Sanitization is important for health and hygiene. It is particularly important on communal surfaces like countertops, doorknobs, light switches, touch-pads and any surface that comes in contact with body fluids. Sanitizing bed linens and undergarments is much more important than sanitizing dress shirts and slacks.


Disinfecting should always be done when someone in the household is ill or if someone has a compromised immune system, especially with the current COVID-19. Following label instructions and using disinfectants correctly is vital to killing micro organisms. If the product is not used correctly, the process only offers a false sense of security.


If you need help or don’t have the time to follow a disinfecting routine please consider hiring a professional cleaning service.

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