What’s The Difference Between Disinfecting vs. Sanitization?

Until recently, when cleaning our homes and businesses, many of us don’t give a lot of thought to what solutions we use to do the job. We may have picked a bottle of cleaning chemicals based on advertisements, what other people are using, or what we grew up using in our childhood homes.

If you were to go to where you keep your cleaners, you would likely see words on the packaging such as “sanitizes” and “disinfects.” The words seem to be used interchangeably but they are actually do two different types of cleaning and knowing the difference is an important step to keeping your family and customers safe and your property clean.

Clean a surface first before anything else

Whether you sanitize or disinfect a surface, make sure you clean the surface first. This means the removal of dirt and grime from an area so it appears like nothings remains. This is about the look and feel of a surface, not the bacteria that remain.

Sanitizers and disinfectants are only fully effective if the surface is clean of all dirt and the person applying the chemicals meticulously follows the directions on the label. If you do not clean a surface as your first step and make sure the material appears clean, dirt and grime will remain on the surface when you apply the solution, thus lowering the effectiveness of the chemical to where it isn’t able to kill as many bacteria and germs.

When do you sanitize?

Both sanitizing and disinfecting solutions kill bacteria and viruses present on a surface but at different log kill rates. According to the CDC, a solution can be called a sanitizer when it kills at least 99.9% of present germs and bacteria on a surface. This means that if you have 1,000,000 germs and use a sanitizer, you can lower that number to only 1,000 remaining when you’re done. For most surfaces we touch, these types of solutions are more than adequate. Sanitizers can be used on most surfaces around the home, including surfaces that come into contact with food and a person’s mouth such as countertops, cooking equipment, and baby toys.

When do you disinfect?

According to the CDC, you can only call a chemical a disinfectant if it kills over 99.999% of present germs and bacteria. For example, if you had that same 1,000,000 germs on a surface and used a disinfectant, you would have no more than 10 remaining.

Not used for common messes, disinfecting is typically reserved to clean up after bodily fluids such as blood, feces, and infectious diseases. Surfaces you may choose to disinfect in a home or business include the toilet, faucets, doorknobs, and other commonly touched surfaces such as light switches when someone is sick. Only use a disinfectant on surfaces that will not come into contact with food or someone’s mouth.

Chemicals used to disinfect surfaces are powerful and must only be handled by people who know how to take the proper precautions to protect themselves and others and who will follow the directions exactly. Disinfectants must remain visibly wet on a surface for various lengths of time (called dwell time) to be fully effective. Check the label before applying the disinfectant.

Why not just disinfect everything?

So why not use disinfecting solutions all the time since they are so effective? Disinfectants are powerful chemicals that kill nearly all bacteria and germs, even the good ones. While some of these microorganisms are harmful to human life, many are not and, in fact, are needed for a healthy immune system. If we were to use disinfectants all the time, there would be numerous consequences.

There are times when using a disinfectant is needed such as cleaning up areas impacted by spilled blood or other bodily fluids. For these, call in a professional such as those at Georgia Clean to handle the situation. Cleaning up blood after events such as a suicide or accident requires special training and experience to make sure all the infected material has been thoroughly cleaned and the area is safe. In addition, special licenses and permits are required to dispose of blood and other biohazards due to their dangerous nature. In these situations, disinfecting by professionals is needed, not a regular person doing household cleaning.

Follow the directions on the label

Whatever product you use, make sure you follow the directions on the label carefully to make sure the sanitization or disinfection is fully effective. Wear gloves or other protective equipment to protect yourself and others and keep all solutions out of the reach of children.

Choose the right solution for the job at hand

Before making a purchase at the store or choosing a cleaner from your stock at home, make sure the cleaner you’re picking is the right one for the job at hand. Use sanitizers for most cleaning jobs and disinfectants when you really need them. By knowing the difference, your house will not only be clean, but you, your family, and employees will be healthier as well.