Cleaning, Disinfecting & Sanitizing: What’s the Difference?

Jul 15, 2020 | Blog

“Cleaning” is often a catch-all phrase for tidying messes, wiping down surfaces and mopping floors. Most methods of cleaning seem interchangeable, but there is a huge distinction between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing products.

Before you grab that bottle of all-purpose cleaner to do a once over around your home or office, consider that, while they are effective in removing smudges, spots, debris and stains from surfaces, they do very little to kill germs that reside on surfaces. These cleaners will make your interior space sparkle but there are certain areas, such as the kitchen and bathroom, that need a more deep clean.

In order to understand how to keep your home clean and healthy, here are the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing!


Cleaning refers to removing visible messes such as debris and stains. It merely reduces the number of germs but does not eliminate them.

Don’t write off cleaning, though. Wiping surfaces with a cloth along with detergent, soap or solvent is effective in removing dirt, allergens, and microorganisms as well as reducing germs that can lead to infection.

It is the first step in a complete cleaning process and should be done regularly. Even if you plan on sanitizing or disinfecting your home, cleaning will get dirt, dust and other marks out of the way for a deeper clean.


Sanitizing is a popular buzzword when it comes to cleaning recommendations nowadays. However, it is still not enough to completely eradicate germs.

A sanitizer is a cleaning product that will kill 99.9% of certain bacteria within 30 seconds. It will, consequently, reduce bacteria to safe levels to decrease the risk of infection even though it may not kill all viruses present on the surface.

This is the next step after cleaning and it is particularly important for surfaces that come into contact with food. In fact, sanitizing will kill the majority of certain kinds of bacteria – even to a point that is acceptable by public health standards.

Most commonly used for sanitizing hands, sanitizer will eliminate most common viruses but will not eliminate them all.

When To Sanitize

Consider the surfaces or objects you want to keep away from harsh chemicals that don’t normally come into contact with dangerous bacteria. Cooking utensils, as well as children’s toys, are perfectly fine to be sanitized.

Here are other areas and objects in your home you may want to consider sanitizing:

  • Cell phone
  • Computer keyboard
  • Light switches
  • Door knobs
  • Faucets
  • TV remotes

Regular sanitizing will help prevent you and your family from catching colds, flus and other harmful viruses.


Disinfectants are chemical cleaning agents formulated to eliminate germs in order to reduce the risk of spreading infection. These products are very similar to sanitizers, except that a different chemical is used in disinfectants and are often required to be left on surfaces for a longer period of time.

Most disinfectants should remain on a surface for at least 10 minutes before being wiped off in order to ensure all germs and pathogens are eliminated. However, you should always read and follow the directions for the product you intend to use.

When to Disinfect

Disinfecting does not have to be a regular part of your daily cleaning routine and is meant more for areas that come into closer contact with harmful bacteria that are not habitually placed near the face.

Your toilet seat and sinks, for example, should be disinfected regularly. Sanitized items such as door knobs and faucets should be disinfected every once and awhile.

Keep in mind that overuse of disinfectants is not healthy and can lead to environmental consequences. This is why you should avoid using them on a daily basis.

Consider disinfecting these areas:

  • Kitchen towels
  • Toothbrush holders
  • Toilet seat
  • Shower heads
  • Laundry baskets
  • All of the items regularly sanitized (just not as often)

The frequency in which you disinfect your home is completely up to you – just keep in mind that disinfectants are chemicals so you don’t want to be using them everyday. Unless someone in your household is sick, then you’ll want to make sure to spot-disinfectant areas more regularly until that person recovers.

Choosing a Disinfectant

Paying attention to a product’s label is important when choosing a disinfectant to use in your home. Check the product’s “kill time”, meaning the time it has to sit on a surface before being wiped away. If you have small children, or little time to clean, you’ll want a disinfectant that doesn’t need to sit for as long.

Consider the safety of the product as well. Does the label indicate the product is poisonous? Corrosive? Flammable? You’ll want to be sure to keep these products away from children. If you opt to choose “natural” disinfectants, check the label to see exactly what viruses and pathogens the product will protect against. Not all disinfectants are made equally.

The Perfect Cleaning Routine

Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting should not be interchangeable methods of cleaning your home. Together, they form the perfect cleaning routine!

Cleaning first will ensure that surfaces are free of dirt, grease and other residue, which paves the way for sanitizers to do their job effectively. Disinfectants are good to have on hand to ensure a deep, germ-killing clean.

For an entirely thorough clean for your home or office, consider hiring a professional cleaner to do the job! Our highly trained cleaners at Dust Queen have the know-how and the products to ensure your space is clean, clear and germ free.

Contact us today for a free quote!