The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting


Differentiating between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting products have always been difficult. Most people like to use these terms interchangeably. However, when you search for “cleaning services near me” and hire professionals to clean your home, they will tell you that cleaning is not the same as disinfecting and sanitizing. Let’s check out how they differ:

The Differences 

  1. Cleaning – Cleaning with the look and feel of a surface. You wipe down, and scrub surfaces like baseboards, countertops, and floor tiles to make them appear spotless and neat. When you clean a surface, you want to get rid of smudges, dirt, dust particles, and other impurities that can be seen with the naked eye.

All-purpose cleaners found in the market work their way into the impurities and make them loose so that you can scrub or wipe them out easily. They deal with stains, marks, spots, and debris stuck on surfaces. Apart from getting rid of dirt and other kinds of organic material, cleaning products can also get rid of germs to a certain degree.

Cleaning can get rid of as much as 98 percent bacteria and 93 percent viruses. While that may be enough for most places like the living room and bedroom, some places have more germs. For instance, your kitchen and bathroom have more germs on the counters, faucets, doorknobs, and handles. Even one percent of those germs can be very harmful. You need something more than cleaning for these places.

  1. Sanitizing – While cleaning can be done with regular household ingredients and even soapy water, sanitizing and disinfecting have different requirements. A surface is sanitized or disinfected to get rid of almost all bacteria and viruses with the help of chemicals. Sometimes you also need heat to sanitize or disinfect a surface.

With sanitizing a chemical product is used to kill most germs or surfaces so that they can be considered safe by public health standards. On the other hand, sanitizers aren’t effective at removing dust, mold, and other such organic impurities. That’s why a surface is often cleaned before it can be sanitized.

  1. Disinfecting – When a surface is disinfected, chemicals are used to get rid of 99.999 percent germs on non-porous and hard surfaces. Disinfectants are not very effective on smooth and soft surfaces. Disinfectants are as potent as pesticides and that’s why they need to be registered with regulatory bodies like the EPA. Some states also require disinfectants to be registered with their state regulatory bodies. For instance, disinfectants sold in California need to be registered under the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Disinfectants also need to be used very carefully. They start working on contact and can kill almost all germs as long as they are used in a certain quantity for a certain amount of time on a surface. The overuse and misuse of disinfectants aren’t just bad for the environment, but also bad for your family’s health. Overuse of disinfectants can also mutate microbes and make them more resistant. 

  1. Regulation – Both sanitizers and pesticides are regulated and controlled by the US EPA(Environmental Protection Agency) and the Departments of Pesticide Regulation for individual states. On the other hand, sanitizers used on food contact surfaces are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration(FDA). 
  1. When to clean – For cleaning there’s no hard and fast rule since people live in different environments and have different lifestyles. For instance, if you live in the middle of a dusty and polluted city, you’ll need to clean your home regularly. On the other hand, if you live in the countryside, your home may not need more than the daily sweep and wipe.

Cleaning frequency also depends on your lifestyle. For instance, if you like to cook your meals, you need to clean the kitchen quite often. On the other hand, someone who eats two out of three meals outside the home, may not need to clean their kitchen as often. 

  1. When to sanitize – Usually sanitizing is reserved for surfaces that come in contact with your food. Sanitizing sprays reduce fungi, germs, and pathogens that may stick to your food and enter your system. Sanitizing can also be done with appliances like a laundry machine or a dishwasher without the use of chemicals. In this case, extreme heat is used on dishes, silverware, and other such objects to kill off the germs. For sanitizing porous surfaces like upholstery and carpets, steam cleaners are used.
  1. When to disinfect – Since disinfecting is almost impossible without the use of harsh chemicals, it is usually done to get rid of all the contamination from a surface. A high-quality disinfecting spray can kill almost 100 percent of germs. Similar to sanitizers, disinfectants may not be good at spot or stain removal. However, they are very good at killing germs and helping to stop the spread of diseases. 
  1. Disinfect with caution – Research shows that the abuse and overuse of disinfectants can stimulate microbes and make them evolve into superbugs. Superbugs are mutated bacteria and viruses that are highly resistant to sanitizers, disinfectants, and even antibiotics when they enter your system. 
  1. Bleach as a sanitizer or disinfectant – Household bleach is a very useful and inexpensive chemical that can help you clean, sanitize and disinfect your home. You can combine it with other ingredients like baking soda and water to get rid of stubborn debris and stains. However, to use it as a sanitizer or disinfectant you need to dilute it at the right ratio. To use it as a sanitizer, you can mix ⅓ cup of bleach in a gallon of water. On the other hand, you can mix 1 whole cup of bleach in a gallon of water to make a disinfectant.


As you can see, cleaning is quite different compared to sanitizing and disinfecting. One refers to the clean look and feel of a surface while others refer to killing off germs at varying degrees. If you need your home cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected by a pro, you can hire one by searching for “cleaning services near me”.

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