Understanding the Differences Between Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting

Petri dish with bacteria coloniesIn today’s society, there are an immense number of microorganisms, bacteria and viruses in a person’s immediate surroundings. And, it’s not unusual to think that performing daily cleaning routines will limit the number of bacteria within the workplace. However, this may not always be the case.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as using the wrong mixture of products or misunderstanding the different cleaning methods and applications.

So why is any of this important? Knowing the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting methods is essential to properly kill the microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, and fungi lingering on surfaces within a workplace.

Cleaning Methods

  1. Cleaning: Cleaning is the removal of dirt, germs and allergens from surfaces. By cleaning affected surfaces with a combination of soap (or detergent) and water, you will remove visible debris, dirt, and dust, but you will not kill germs.
  2. Sanitizing: Sanitizing on the other hand, will help reduce the number of microorganisms present on a surface. It is better than cleaning alone but it will do nothing about viruses and fungus.
  3. Disinfecting: Above all, disinfectants are used to kill microscopic organisms on surfaces. Each type of disinfectant will kill different types of microorganisms, and these kill claims are listed on the label.

Cleaning Applications

It’s important to remember that each cleaning method serves its purpose and you are not required to disinfect every surface, every time you clean it. Disinfecting surfaces that do not require it will contribute to the resistance of microorganisms. The following examples will help demonstrate when each cleaning method is most effective:

  1. Cleaning: Cleaning is most effective when you are removing visible imperfections from surfaces that have a lower risk of pathogen transfer. Examples of a low-risk surfaces would be your floors, or windows. According to an article from CleanLink, cleaning is favorable to your health because it removes the allergens and microorganisms from the surfaces in your indoor environment.
  2. Sanitizing: Sanitizing is meant to reduce the occurrences of microorganisms. According to CleanLink, sanitizers should be applied to food contact surfaces. This method is better to use when in combination with cleaning as it helps reduce the amount of growths that can occur on your surfaces.
  3. Disinfecting: Disinfecting is more suited for killing the microscopic organisms on frequently touch surfaces such as desks, phones and doorknobs. Be sure to read the content on disinfectant labels, as it will have a list of kill claims and dwell time.  A kill claim is a list of microscopic organisms that each disinfectant is capable of “killing,” and dwell time is amount of time the disinfectant needs to sit on a surface before being wiped off.  Each disinfectant is different so be sure to understand the label before you use it. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog with more information on kill claims and dwell times.

Designing a routine that effectively works together, such as cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting will drastically reduce the number of microorganisms, viruses, and fungi present on surfaces. This in turn, will lower the amount of illnesses your staff or customers come in contact with, creating a healthier, cleaner environment for everyone.

For more information on how to build an effective cleaning program, contact our Swish Cleaning and Chemical experts today at 1-855-GOSWISH (467-9474) in Canada or 1-800-639-7226 in the US, or visit www.swishclean.com.  Products may vary depending on location.


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