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

It goes without saying that we’re all hyper-aware about cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Often, those terms are used interchangeably, but there are distinct differences that can make all the difference when trying to kill COVID-19 and other viruses, as well as eliminating harmful bacteria.

Let’s define the terms (definitions from our friends at the CDC):

Cleaning refers to the removal of dirt and impurities including germs from surfaces. Cleaning alone does not kill germs. But by removing them, it decreases the number of germs and therefore any risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. But killing germs remaining on a surface after cleaning further reduces any risk of spreading infection.


What about sanitizing? 

Well, sanitizing lies in between the two. According to www.flu.gov, sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements, while disinfecting removes bacteria and viruses completely. You sanitize a surface by cleaning or disinfecting it to reduce the risk of spreading infection. In essence, sanitizing destroys all forms of microbial life and is used mainly in healthcare and laboratory settings.


Do you disinfect, or do you sanitize?

In order to eliminate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID 19, you should disinfect – not sanitize – because disinfectants are the only products approved by the EPA to kill viruses on hard surfaces. The main difference is that FDA-approved sanitizers only have claims for bacteria, while disinfectants have claims against both bacteria and viruses.


Ready to clean and disinfect? Go in order.

If disinfecting a surface is the task at hand—for example, you’re tackling desks that a classroom has just been used, or are ready to take care of the entryway to an office building (think doors, handles, countertops)—the order of operations is important. Remember that “C” comes before “D”, so always clean before you disinfect.

First, clean the surface with a general all-purpose cleaner to remove any visible waste particles. Second, rinse the surface with water, dry, and then apply disinfectant. Make certain that you’re following the appropriate dwell times for the disinfectant to ensure that you’re killing all the germs. 




How often should I clean surfaces during COVID-19?

It all depends on the use level and what surfaces you’re talking about. Routine cleaning and disinfecting are an important part of reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Normal routine cleaning can reduce the risk of exposure and is a necessary step before you disinfect dirty surfaces.

Surfaces frequently touched by multiple people, such as door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and faucets, should be cleaned and disinfected at least daily. More frequent cleaning and disinfection may be required based on the level of use.

Ready to stock up on disinfecting supplies? A variety of our products have been approved by the EPA for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.


For more COVID-19 resources, check out the following posts:

Explore Zogics Clean Guide Library

Empower your staff and reassure your community with our FREE downloadable cleaning and disinfecting guides for fitness centers, educational settings, hospitality facilities and more.

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