Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting — What’s the Difference?

Updated: July 12, 2023

Since 2020, The COVID-19 pandemic has put cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting at the forefront of public conversation. Between major news attention and the CDC’s List of Safety Precautions, cleaning of homes, workplaces, public spaces and high touch surfaces has been more important than ever.

But, do you know the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting? You may have heard these terms used interchangeably, but the truth is they are three different processes, each with their own unique criteria. To help you better understand these three terms, we’ve outlined the differences for you, below.

The Major Differences Between Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting

First, it’s important to note that we’ll be talking about cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting in the context of surfaces and objects. Products for these purposes are regulated by the EPA. Whereas cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing products meant for human contact, are regulated by the Food and Drug administration. Now, let’s get started!

What is Cleaning?

Cleaning is usually the first step before moving on to disinfecting or sanitizing. Cleaning means removing dirt, dust, grime, crumbs or any foreign matter from a surface or an object. During this process, you’ll often use simple soap and water. Cleaning isn’t about killing germs, though it is a great first step in preventing the spread of illness causing bacteria. Instead, cleaning gives the object a spotless starting point for further disinfecting or sanitizing.

What is Sanitizing?

Sanitizing may sound complicated. But, really, it’s simple. Sanitizing an object or surface simply means lowering the number of germs to a safe, and standardized number. The safe, standardized number is usually predetermined and regulated by public health requirements. Let’s use the food industry for an example. Sanitizing practices in a restaurant may include washing dishes in a dishwasher, and wiping down counter tops with a bleach solution. When done correctly, these objects will reach standardized industry criteria for sanitization.

What is Disinfecting?

Disinfecting is the most clear cut of these three terms. While cleaning and sanitizing may rely on pre-set standards or simply removing dust or dirt, disinfecting is a different story. The process of disinfecting requires using chemicals, called disinfectants, to kill germs on a surface or item. The process may vary slightly depending on the product. But, for the most part, disinfecting involves leaving a chemical on a surface for a set amount of time, or until it dries. Disinfection is only effective at killing germs if directions are followed for the specific product. For example, check out our post about disinfectant wipes to see what steps need to be followed for them to effectively kill germs.

We hope this has helped clear up some common cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting questions for you! Remember, the Casas Bonitas team of Cleaning Professionals is always here for all your residential and commercial cleaning needs!

We’re Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfection Experts

Ready for to hand off the cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting duties? Check out our residential cleaning packages, office cleaning and other commercial cleaning services. Contact the Casas Bonitas team today or request a callback to schedule a consultation and see how we go above and beyond to reach your cleaning and disinfection goals.