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Cleaning, Sanitizing,
& Disinfecting Defined

Cleaning, Sanitizing,
& Disinfecting Defined

We have all been overwhelmed with those three little words, cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting, but do we really know the difference and when they should be done? Owning a cleaning business makes it ever important to know and understand the difference between these three words. We are providing a service for our clients whereby they anticipate, even expect to see a visual change while at the same time it is expected that using proper cleaning techniques, we would expect a reduction in the unseen (potentially dangerous bacteria, dust mites, pollen, etc.) with the goal of reducing the spread of COVID, flus and other types of illnesses.

What is the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting and when are they appropriate?

Cleaning: The removal of visible soil from objects and surfaces using water, soap and at times some "elbow grease". Cleaning does NOT kill but removes germs, bacteria, allergens, biological material, and soil and depending on the type of cleaning, washes them down the drain, throws them in the garbage, or redistributes them to another location. Cleaning must be done, according to the EPA and the CDC prior to disinfecting because the remaining material interferes with the disinfectant or sanitizer's ability to do their job. Cleaning should also be done on a frequent, consistent basis not only but especially if touched by multiple individuals. We all touch or encounter multiple objects or other individuals.

Sanitizing: Sometimes used interchangeably with disinfecting, although different, they both kill germs. The difference lies in the kill level. Sanitizing reduces the number of germs either through removing or killing them. Sanitizing does not kill all, or even most germs but meets a level of 99.9% killed on hard surfaces (99.99% killed on food surfaces). The FDA regulates and determines the rules and roles of hand sanitizers which were created as a convenience when soap and water are not available.

Disinfecting: Uses chemicals that kill 99.999% of germs, viruses, microbes, bacteria, etc. and they are regulated and tested by the EPA. It is important to note that all disinfectants are not alike and must be used according to their label and not interchanged. It is also important to note that they should not be used as an alternative to hand sanitizer. Disinfectants are regulated as antimicrobial pesticides and can contain or can contain harsh chemicals that can be very damaging to your skin AND they kill bacteria indiscriminately, including protective or good bacteria.

Sources

Center for Disease Control and Prevention CDC (June 2021)

United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA (July 2021)

Leonard, V., C. Westinghouse, and A. Bradman. "Green Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting: A Curriculum for Early Care and Education." University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing Institute for Health and Aging (2013).