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The Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, Sanitizing, and Sterilizing

When it comes to cleaning, there is a misunderstanding of four common terms: cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing, and sterilizing. But what do they all mean? And more importantly, when should you use each one? Read on to find out the difference between these four terms so that you can keep your home or business clean and safe.


Cleaning is the first and most important step in any Residential and Commercial cleaning process because it removes the dirt and debris that can allow germs and bacteria to flourish. When you clean something, you are using soap or detergent and water to physically remove the dirt from the surface. Time is the most important factor in cleaning; for example, you wouldn't wipe down a kitchen counter with a damp sponge and then immediately prepare food on it. You need to give the surface time to air dry so that any residual moisture doesn't provide an environment where germs can grow.


Disinfecting kills microorganisms on surfaces or objects. This is important because some viruses and bacteria can cause serious illness or even death. Disinfecting should always be done after cleaning because cleaning alone does not necessarily kill all germs. Also, disinfecting a dirty surface will not effectively kill germs and bacteria. The most common way to disinfect is by using chemicals, such as bleach or alcohol. However, it's important to read the label carefully before using any chemical cleaner; some types of surfaces shouldn't be treated with certain chemicals as they can cause damage and they will not be effective if dwell time is not adhered to. Disinfectants are the only products approved by the EPA to kill viruses on hard surfaces.


Sanitizing reduces the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level. This is different from disinfecting because disinfecting completely eliminates all germs while sanitizing only reduces the number of germs present. Sanitizing is often done using heat or chemicals; for example, dishes can be sanitized by running them through a hot water cycle in the dishwasher.


Sterilizing kills all germs on surfaces or objects. This is important for medical equipment or anything else that needs to be absolutely free of germs before use. Sterilization can be done using heat, chemicals, or filtration; for example, surgical instruments are typically sterilized using heat (steam autoclaves) prior to use.


Now that you know the difference between these four terms, you can make sure that you are using the right one for each situation. Remember: clean first, then disinfect or sanitize as needed. This will help keep your home or business clean and safe for everyone involved.



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