What Is the Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting?


Cleaner homes and workplaces are healthier and lead to a healthy and happy lifestyle. With the primary focus on health and safety due to the outbreak of coronavirus, you need to understand how cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting play a crucial role in keeping you and your loved ones safe.

Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are part of a broad approach to containing the spread of coronavirus and other infectious diseases. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they mean different things.

So, what is the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and professional disinfecting?  Read on to find out. 


Cleaning refers to the process of getting rid of visible dust, dirt, and debris from surfaces and organizing the space to make it look neat.  Cleaning uses water and soap/detergent to get rid of the dirt from surfaces. 

Cleaning may or may not kill germs and bacteria, but it will generally reduce their numbers, lowering the risk of infection.

You can view cleaning as the first step in the entire process. In fact, it is the most vital step that cannot be skipped. You cannot think of sanitizing and disinfecting if you haven’t cleaned the surface. If you sanitize and disinfect a surface without cleaning it first, the process may not be effective. 

Sweeping, collecting dust using a vacuum cleaner, organizing things, wiping surface inside out, and disposing of unwanted things in the right places are common forms of cleaning. After cleaning, the next step in the chain is sanitizing.


When you sanitize a surface, you are simply getting rid of germs that could be lurking on it. In other words, sanitizing reduces the number and growth of bacteria, germs, and fungi on surfaces. However, it doesn’t kill the microorganisms completely.

Sanitizing is only a step beyond cleaning and is mostly used in food preparation areas to stop germs and fungi from causing foodborne illnesses.  A good sanitizer will significantly reduce all types of bacteria and fungi and make a surface safer.

Typically, any chemical that kills up to 99.99% of specific bacteria within 30 seconds qualifies to be classified as a sanitizer.  The remaining few bacteria, fungi, and viruses are cleared through disinfecting.


Disinfecting is the last step in keeping surfaces and floors safe and healthy. Disinfectants are designed to kill all kinds of bacteria and disease-causing microorganisms. Disinfecting means that high-quality chemicals are used to kill germs, bacteria, and viruses that may be lurking on your surfaces.

The primary difference between sanitizing and professional disinfecting is the type of chemical used in the process and the length of time the chemical is left on the surface. For many sanitizers, one to two minutes is the appropriate dwell time.

However, for disinfectants, you need to allow up to 20 minutes for the chemical to act on the germs and viruses. Be sure to read the instructions on the chemical product you are using as a disinfectant to understand the recommended amount of time that the chemical should be allowed on the surface.