The Key Differences Between Cleaning and Disinfecting

With the entire world reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s more focus than ever on cleaning and disinfecting. Keeping our homes, vehicles, and businesses free of germs is now a matter of life and death. 

This is one of the many reasons why you need to understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. While the terms are often used interchangeably, they’re not actually the same. 


“Cleaning” is what most people do around their homes and businesses. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), cleaning is just the removal of dirt, impurities, and germs from surfaces.

It’s important to note that cleaning does nothing to kill germs, it only removes them. It will help lower the spread of infection, but not as much as sanitizing and disinfection.

Wiping down surfaces with soap and water, sweeping, and vacuuming are all examples of cleaning. You can clean with soap, detergent, glass cleaner, degreasers, and dusters.


“Sanitizing” actually reduces the number of viruses, bacteria, and fungi on a surface. This should be done after cleaning.

To qualify as a sanitizing solution, according to the CDC, a chemical must kill 99.999% of bacteria in 30 seconds or less. This is an excellent preventative measure that is a critical part of keeping offices, schools, hospitals, and other public places safe.

Sanitizing is particularly important for any surfaces where food is processed or consumed.

It should be noted, though, that sanitizing doesn’t kill all viruses. For businesses like fitness centers and high-germ spaces like public bathrooms, disinfecting is the most appropriate approach.


“Disinfecting” uses harsher chemicals to kill specific pathogens and viruses. To qualify as a disinfectant, the chemical must kill 99.999% of infectious viruses, fungi, and bacteria within a 5 to 10-minute time frame.

One important difference between sanitizing and disinfecting is the amount of time it takes. While sanitizing happens quickly, disinfecting typically requires soaking the surface with the chemical and letting it sit long enough to kill the germs.

Some of the most common disinfectants include bleach, chlorine, and alcohol.

Disinfecting used to be reserved for areas that might be exposed to bodily fluids (such as bathrooms). However, in light of the current pandemic, many businesses are planning to fully disinfect all of their spaces before re-opening to the public.

The Bottom Line  

Since neither sanitizing or disinfecting actually removes dirt, debris, and germs, it’s always best to start by cleaning surfaces. This will get rid of any visible debris and prep the surface for the next step. Then, rinse the surface with clean, soapy water.

After this is done, you’ll want to clean or disinfect, following the instructions on the packaging.

Need Cleaning and Disinfecting Services? We Can Help

At a time when cleaning and disinfecting is incredibly important, you don’t want to trust this to just anybody. Whether you need to make your office, community areas, or other business space safe for employees and customers to return, we’ve got all of your commercial cleaning needs covered.

Contact us today to learn more about the services we offer and what makes us different.