HomeTechnologyNewsThe Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing – LifeSavvy

The Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing – LifeSavvy

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Perusing the cleaning aisle in a supermarket, you’ll notice all-purpose cleaners, disinfectants, and disinfectant sprays lining the shelves. With so many options, it can be overwhelming to find the right product for your cleaning job.

We wanted to understand the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing, so we reached out to some experts for help. P&G Global Home Care Senior Manager of Science Communications Maria Striemer and Molly Maid President Vera Peterson gave us a broader understanding of what each means.

What is cleaning?

A woman cleaning her floors

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Before getting into the nitty-gritty of disinfecting surfaces and sanitizing your home, it’s essential to start with basic cleaning. Cleaning means removing crumbs, dust particles, or any type of debris that may or may not be visible.

“Oftentimes, dirt and grime can build up and are very noticeable, and can sometimes even hinder the performance of things like the oven or dishwasher,” Peterson explained. “Build-up can prevent things from running at their full efficiency and can often attract bugs or trigger allergies.”

At the very least, you’ll want to start by wiping down surfaces regularly to make sure everything inside your home is in pristine condition and working properly.

Cleaning tasks vary depending on the tools you have on hand. For example, to clean your floors, you’ll run to the broom, vacuum, or mop. To clean up a spill, you’ll need a dish towel and an all-purpose cleaner to help get the job done.

Best for hardwood floors

What is Disinfect?

Disinfection of a high-touch surface doorknob.

PhotoHelin/Shutterstock.com

Once you’ve taken the time to remove the layers of dirt and grime, you can move on to a deeper form of cleaning, which we all know as disinfecting. Striemer and Peterson explained that disinfecting means removing or killing germs, bacteria, and viruses that are present on surfaces.

When you disinfect an area inside the house, you should spray the surface with the disinfectant spray and leave the solution there for a period of time according to the instructions on the labels. That way, the solution has time to kill any germs present.

Peterson spoke about the importance of how often you should disinfect certain areas of the home. He told us: “It is recommended to try to disinfect two to three times a week, but during flu season, it would be beneficial to disinfect the most touched areas daily.” High-touch areas are places inside the home or anywhere that hands touch frequently.

We also wanted to know how to find quality sanitizing products. Striemer explained that disinfectants are regulated by an agency called the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Any disinfectant that claims to kill bacteria and viruses is reviewed by the EPA to ensure it meets federal safety standards and scientific and regulatory requirements,” she said.

We then asked Striemer if she had any favorite products to recommend for the job. She told LifeSavvy: “Microban 24 not only disinfects and can be used for cleaning, it is also a disinfectant that continues to kill bacteria for up to 24 hours, pat after pat when used as directed.”

What is Sanitize?

Sanitizing a surface with spray and a microfiber towel.
Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock.com

Sanitizing is a bit different than sanitizing because while it works to reduce germs, it doesn’t necessarily kill most germs like sanitizers do.

Peterson told LifeSavvy that “disinfecting surfaces is most beneficial after they have been cleaned and disinfected. Disinfection will kill bacteria and viruses, and disinfection will kill any remaining germs. It is best to try to disinfect at least once a week.”

She told us that you can make a strong disinfectant solution at home by mixing a tablespoon of bleach with a quart of water.

“A strong disinfectant is a solution that contains at least 70% isopropyl alcohol, since it has a higher moisture content,” Peterson said. “A solution that is more than 70% isopropyl alcohol will evaporate too quickly and not be as effective.”

Expert Disinfection and Sanitization Tips

Someone spraying and sanitizing their counters.
Maridav/Shutterstock.com

We asked Peterson and Striemer for their top tips for sanitizing and sanitizing surfaces inside the home. From cleaning cloth recommendations to areas you need to focus more on, they had plenty of valuable tips to share.

These were some of our favorites:

Use microfiber cloths

Peterson was quick to tell us that microfiber clothing is one of the best tools to use when it comes to sanitizing and sanitizing surfaces. This is because the tiny but powerful fibers capture bacteria and tiny particles well.

These cost-effective, reusable towels clean delicate surfaces without damaging them. They’re just what you need before spring cleaning season.

Anti-scratch sponges are also great

Peterson also mentioned that non-scratch sponges are great for sanitizing and disinfecting. This is especially true if you need to disinfect or sanitize your kitchen sink, stove, or appliances.

better double sided

The sponge material, along with the soft cushioned scrubbing side, will help remove any stubborn dirt while working to help kill surface bacteria.

Read the instructions on the label

Striemer expressed the importance of always checking label instructions when using disinfectant or sanitizing products. This is essential to ensure that the product works as it is supposed to.

“Different products require the liquid to remain on the surface for different lengths of time to achieve the desired result,” he said. “In addition, some products may require a potable water rinse if used in kitchens or near food contact surfaces.”

Disinfecting wipes can be harmful

Peterson told us something we’ve never heard before. Believe it or not, those handy disinfectant wipes can be harmful to some sealants due to the citric acid used in some brands. Keep that in mind if you find yourself using them frequently.

According to The Spruce, citric acid solutions should also not be used on unsealed natural stones, as the acid can puncture the surface of those natural stones.

Focus on high touch areas

High touch areas definitely need the most attention when it comes to sanitizing surfaces. Door handles, light switches, faucet knobs, and just about anywhere your hands come into contact with multiple times a day need your disinfectant spray attention and a solid cleaning.


Cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing are different methods of keeping your home clean and safe. In case we didn’t give you enough reasons to start cleaning, did you think homework might make you smarter?

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