Whether you are at home or at work, it is important to keep areas free of germs to try to prevent the spread of diseases. When it comes to this, the words clean, sanitize, and disinfect are often used interchangeably. But there is a significant difference between the terms, and technical differences as well. Additionally, knowing the difference between them can help you to know exactly what products to buy, and how to use them to keep your home or workplace clean, safe, and healthy.
While at the core of it, cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting are aimed to achieve the same objective, creating a hygienic environment. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) these actions can be defined as:
- Cleaning removes, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects.
- Sanitizing lowers the number of pathogenic bacteria on surfaces by a minimum of 3 logs or by 99.9%.
- Sanitizers that comes in contact with food must reduce the bacterial counts by 5 logs: 99.999%
- Disinfecting is achieved when a product can reduce the bacterial counts by a minimum of 6 logs thus completely eliminating a specific pathogen(s). Bear in mind, disinfection does not mean sterility.
It is important to note however that before you sanitize or disinfect you need to clean the surface first. Germs can hide underneath dirt and other material on surfaces where they are not affected by a sanitizer or disinfectant. Dirt and organic material can also reduce the germ-killing ability of some sanitizers and disinfectants. Typically, cleaning is the first step toward the goal of creating a hygienic environment.
Cleaning refers to simply removing dirt and other impurities from a surface. To effectively sanitize, and/or disinfect; a surface needs to be clean. Once the surface is clean, the sanitizer or disinfectant (using disinfecting wipes for example) can better do its job of reducing or eliminating harmful bacteria.
Sanitizing is a treatment that lessens and even kills germs on surfaces to make them safe for contact. The two most common sanitizer types are:
- Non-food contact sanitizer for treatment of non-food contact surfaces like floors, walls, railings. Sanitizing is best for when the need is for a less robust antibacterial treatment.
- Food Contact Sanitizer when you want to sanitize items that come into contact with food: countertops, dishes, glassware, countertops or utensils. A food contact sanitizer is often the last step in a cleaning process for food contact items.
Disinfection requires a stronger treatment than a sanitizer. A disinfectant must completely eliminate specific pathogen(s). Both disinfecting and sanitizing are a step up from regular cleaning because cleaning only removes visible dirt. When you sanitize or disinfect, you are removing potentially harmful pathogens that might not be visible to the naked eye. In order to have a product be classified and be able to be marketed as a sanitizer or disinfectant for hard surfaces, they must be EPA Registered and must have data supporting the claims.
Now knowing the difference among the various disinfectant types, you can raise the question when should you sanitize, and when should you disinfect? The answer to this question will depend on your objective: Do you have a specific pathogen(s) you want to target? In these uncertain times; the Covid-19 virus is one of the most targeted of all pathogens. You can check to determine if your disinfectant is capable of disinfecting Covid-19 by checking the EPA List N. Disinfectants on this list satisfies the EPA requirements for disinfecting this viral pathogen. Beside Covid-19, EPA has 14 other lists that might be useful in selecting the right product for your objective. Overall, disinfecting can lower the risk of infections from other pathogens like influenza, HIV, Staph or Salmonella.
Creating a clean, safe, and healthy environment requires discipline and the right set of cleaning products. Clean is good but often you need to go beyond clean to create a hygienic environment by disinfecting or sanitizing your surroundings with the right cleaning products.