Sanitizing Vs. Disinfecting: Do You Know the Difference?

Cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting. We hear these words all the time. You probably also use them a lot. Probably interchangeably. But do you actually know what they each mean? There are some key differences between all of these terms.

In everyday use, “cleaning” has become an umbrella term that covers all kinds of processes used to remove dirt, debris, and microbes from a given surface. Technically speaking, however, “cleaning” simply refers to the removal of visible dirt and other organic material, while “sanitizing” and “disinfecting” are both decontamination processes used to kill microbes. You should always clean a surface before disinfecting or sanitizing it.

So, what’s the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting?


When you sanitize something, you are getting rid of the vast majority of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and germs. Sanitizing only destroys viable cells, not spores. Sanitizing is common in daily cleaning practices and for surfaces and objects that come into contact with food. Products used for sanitizing include alcohol, detergent, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorine. Since disinfectants are harsher and can be unsafe for consumption, sanitizers are used in everyday home cleaning because they are safe for things like dishes and kitchen counters.


Disinfecting an object or surface gets rid of all microbes on it, including all pathogenic (harmful) ones. Disinfecting kills both viable cells and spores, so it essentially takes sanitizing a step further by destroying virtually everything on a surface as opposed to only the viable cells. The chemicals used for sanitizing can be used in a higher concentration for disinfecting, and other means of disinfection include heat or steam, radiation, filtration, and gases (such as formaldehyde gas). This process is generally best for non-porous surfaces and is used for objects and surfaces that have come into contact with bodily fluids and other potentially harmful substances. It is not, however, appropriate for objects that will be in contact with food. Disinfecting is especially important in hospitals, labs, and other healthcare facilities.

Anago’s professional cleaning team knows when and where to sanitize and disinfect, so you can rest assured that your facility is clean and safe. Learn more about our franchisees’ services.


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