How to Differentiate Disinfecting, Sanitizing and Cleaning

Cleaning one’s home or any living area is a broad term that can refer to various things to different people. Cleaning up may be defined by your youngster as picking up scattered toys. On the other hand, sanitizing, cleaning, and disinfecting surfaces in homes, schools, and the public have more comprehensive results and demands.

Here are the definitions to better understand the distinctions between sanitizing, cleaning, and disinfecting:

What is Sanitizing

Sanitizing is a process that aims to reduce or even eliminate the level of microorganisms that could be harmful to human health, such as bacteria and viruses, on a surface.  This is done with the use of antimicrobial agents of varying concentrations.

Concerning cleaning, sanitizing is the final step in the process, as it is considered to be important in public places, such as hospitals and schools to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses.

What is Cleaning

Cleaning is a surface-level treatment that aims to make surfaces presentable for use. Cleaning may be done by power washing, polishing, or dusting, among other things. 

Cleaning is distinct from sanitizing in that sanitizing is the process of eliminating all forms of microorganisms. In contrast, cleaning may only remove dirt and grime from the surface.

What is Disinfecting

Disinfection is the process of killing all forms of microorganisms by applying EPA-approved chemicals. Disinfection differs from sanitizing in that a chemical solution must be applied to the surface. This can be in the form of soap or even the application of UV light.

The disinfection process will vary depending on the type of surface to be disinfected. Some surfaces cannot be disinfected as effectively, as may be the case with countertops or an oven.

How to Effectively Sanitize, Clean, and Disinfect


There are two methods to sanitize: the use of antimicrobial agents and the use of high temperatures. Both ways accomplish the same goal of sanitizing a surface. While the use of high temperatures does not always discount the need for antimicrobial agents, using a  combination of both is generally the safer option.

The use of antimicrobial agents is the most common approach. It includes using chemical disinfectants, such as phenolic compounds or quaternary amines and surfactants to aid penetration into the microbe cell during the cleaning process.


The use of a chemical solution is what differentiates disinfection from sanitizing. The chemical solutions often consist of a quaternary ammonium compound or other chemical compounds. These are commonly used to disinfect health care surfaces, such as countertops and medical equipment.


Cleaning a surface does not require a chemical agent but can be done with soap and water or a cleaning agent, such as a detergent. You may also use rags, sponges, and brushes to clean a surface is manual cleaning.


These processes play a significant role in protecting human health and wellbeing. When surfaces are cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected, the level of microorganisms is reduced, creating a healthier environment where people can live, work and go to school.

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