Apr 30, 2020

Understanding the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing


Not all cleaning jobs mean the same thing. While some of these terms might seem similar and interchangeable to each other, there are in reality a significant difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing your home.

Cleaning up your home or any living space is a generic term which has different meaning for different people. Your definition of cleaning up your child’s room may mean picking up the scattered toys, arranging the bedsheet. Likewise, cleaning your kitchen can mean to you simply washing the dishes and disposing off the leftovers. But the reality is far from just this much. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given distinct definitions of cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces on the basis of the level of microbial contamination left on a surface after treatment.

For a homemaker, a proper and clear understanding of these definitions will help you to read the product labels and comprehend as to which product is doing what.

What is cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing?

Should I clean, disinfect or sanitize?

What are some of the tips and tricks for proper cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing?

If you too have one of these questions in your mind, keep scrolling and reading below.

What is cleaning?

Cleaning is nothing but a process of removing debris, dust and dirt from a surface which can be seen with the naked eyes. This process in general involves the use of soap or detergent along with water and a piece of cloth to remove dirt and dust through chemical (cleaner), mechanical (scrubbing) and thermal (water temperature) action.

You already know that! Right?

But what you may or may not know is that cleaning may or may not kill bacteria but it will atmost dilute their numbers thus providing aid in lowering the risk of spreading of infectious microbes.

What is disinfecting?

The act of disinfecting kills microscopic organisms like bacteria, germs, viruses and fungi on surfaces which are harmful for human body. This act is usually done by using EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved chemicals that kills them and thus, prevents them from spreading. Items can also be disinfected using ultraviolet light that breaks apart the DNA of germs leaving them unable to harm and reproduce.

One thing here is worth mentioning that it is highly recommended to always clean first before disinfecting any surface because disinfecting does not necessarily remove visible debris, dirt and dust from a surface and thus in the absence of cleaning, germs can hide under the visible debris, dirt and dust thereby reducing the efficacy of the disinfectant.

WOW! Now that’s something really cool to know! Isn’t it?

What is sanitizing?

Sanitizing is the act of reducing the number and growth of bacteria and viruses. It does not kill them. When a product claims to sanitize a surface, it is promising to make the surface free of germs that could be harmful to your health according to public health standards. Sanitizing is highly recommended in food preparation areas where germs and fungi can cause foodborne diseases.

Sanitizing has now become a buzz word in the market after the COVID-19 pandemic. The sale of hand sanitizer sky rocketed in the market as people are opting for hand sanitizer as one of the myriad ways to improve their personal hygiene. A proper understanding of the term can help you to comprehend if the product you are using is providing you with the adequate level of sanitization particularly when someone in your home is ill or has a compromised immune system.

Should you clean, disinfect or sanitize?

Needless to say but cleaning should be a routine process that should be done daily. Keeping things clean and in order diminishes the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and germs, keeps pests and insects under control and protects the investment you’ve made in your abode and belongings.

Disinfecting should always be done when someone in the household is sick. Following the label instructions on the product is vital to kill the microorganisms. Having said that it must be noted that disinfection process should always be done post cleaning until which the process will only offer a false sense of security.

Sanitization is particularly important from the health and hygiene perspective and is important on communal surfaces like countertops, doorknobs, handrails, and any other surface that comes in contact with the body fluids.

Tips for appropriate cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing

>> Do routine cleaning.

Have said this already, will say it again that cleaning is something which should be done on a daily basis. The importance of cleaning things on everyday basis is itself accentuated from the fact that Dr. Michael G. Schmidt, professor of microbiology at the Medical University of South Carolina and chairman of the American Society of Microbiology's Council on Microbial Sciences, says that the best way to protect your family from infectious diseases is to listen to your mother and, "Clean your house."

>> Add disinfecting and sanitizing products when necessary.

These days people are so busy in their routine life that they hardly find enough time to clean their house themselves let alone disinfect or sanitize. House helps too try to dodge the very idea of doing something extra apart from regular routine chore. It is however important to add disinfecting or sanitizing products in your regular cleaning routine particularly if someone in your home is unwell or there is a widespread viral outbreak in the community.

>> Use sufficient quantity of the product.

Specialists in the field suggests that all the ingredients of disinfecting or sanitizing products must remain on a surface for atleast 5 to 10 minutes to effectively kill germs and bacteria. You therefore must use a sufficient quantity of the product to keep the surface wet for that entire duration and then let the surface air dry.

>> Use products cautiously.

Do not unnecessarily try to mix the contents of two or more different types of cleaners. No, we are not trying to underestimate your mix and match skills but there is a science behind this. Chlorine bleach which is an effective disinfectant and ammonia which is an excellent cleaner, these two when mixed together produce a toxic gas that can lead to lung damage or even death. Thus, always provide for sufficient ventilation; wear protective eyewear and gloves when using any cleaning product. Not to forget to wash your hands with soap and water after using such products.

So with this I hope by now you might have a fair understanding of the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing, which to do when and tips to do it effectively. I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post as much as I’ve enjoyed jotting it down for you. I will see you super soon with yet another informative blog, till then like I always say, STAY HEALTHY, STAY HAPPY