Cleaning vs. Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting: What’s the Difference?

In our quest for a spotless and healthy environment, it’s essential to understand the distinctions between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Each process plays a unique role in maintaining a safe and hygienic space.


Definition: Cleaning involves removing dirt, dust, crumbs, and germs from surfaces. It doesn’t necessarily kill germs but reduces their number and the risk of spreading infection. Cleaning focuses on the physical removal of debris and organic material, which can harbor pathogens.

Methods: Common methods of cleaning include:

  • Wiping Surfaces with Soap and Water: This method physically removes dirt and reduces the number of germs. Soap breaks down grease and dirt, making it easier to wash away.
  • Vacuuming: Regular vacuuming removes dust, dirt, and allergens from carpets, rugs, and upholstery. Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can further reduce the presence of allergens in the home.
  • Dusting: Dusting surfaces with a damp cloth or a microfiber duster helps trap dust particles, preventing them from becoming airborne and resettling on surfaces.
  • Sweeping and Mopping: For hard floors, sweeping removes loose dirt and debris, while mopping with water and a suitable cleaner ensures a more thorough cleaning.

Importance: Regular cleaning is crucial for maintaining a healthy living environment. Here are some key benefits:

  • Reducing Allergens: Regular cleaning reduces allergens like dust mites, pet dander, and pollen, which can trigger allergic reactions and respiratory issues.
  • Preventing Pest Infestations: Clean homes are less attractive to pests such as rodents and insects, which thrive in dirty, cluttered environments.
  • Improving Overall Hygiene: A clean home reduces the risk of spreading germs and infections. While cleaning alone does not kill germs, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
  • Enhancing Mental Well-being: A clean and organized living space can reduce stress and improve mental clarity, contributing to a better quality of life.

For more details, check out this guide on the importance of cleaning (CDC)​​ (Allrecipes)​. Also  check out this guide on the importance of cleaning.

By incorporating these simple tips, you can maintain a pleasant-smelling home without relying on artificial air fresheners. For more cleaning tips and solutions, follow our blog. At Good Cleaner Co., we’re dedicated to helping you create a clean and inviting space.

If you find yourself needing a deeper clean or professional assistance, our team at Good Cleaner Co. is here to help. We offer a wide range of cleaning services tailored to meet your specific needs, ensuring your home not only smells fresh but also shines with cleanliness. Contact us today to schedule a service and experience the difference of a truly clean home.


Definition: Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces to a safe level, as determined by public health standards or requirements. This process is more thorough than cleaning but less rigorous than disinfecting. It aims to reduce, not eliminate, the risk of infection by lowering the count of germs to safe levels​ (Health)​​ (Allrecipes)​.

Methods: Sanitizing usually involves using chemicals approved for reducing bacteria on surfaces. It can also include the use of heat (like dishwashers or steam cleaners) to kill germs. Here are some common methods:

  • Chemical Sanitizers: These are substances like chlorine-based products, quaternary ammonium compounds, or iodine solutions. They are commonly used in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas where germ reduction is critical. For example, to sanitize kitchen surfaces, you might wipe them with a sanitizing solution, allowing it to sit for a specified period before wiping it off.
  • Heat Sanitization: This involves using high temperatures to kill germs. Dishwashers often have a sanitizing cycle that uses hot water (typically above 170°F) to sanitize dishes. Steam cleaners can also be used on floors and other surfaces to sanitize without chemicals.
  • UV Sanitizers: Ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizers are used in various settings, including medical facilities, to reduce the microbial load on surfaces. They are also available for consumer use, such as sanitizing toothbrushes and phones.

Importance: Sanitizing is crucial in environments where food is prepared or consumed, as it helps prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses. It’s also important in homes with young children, elderly, or immunocompromised individuals. By maintaining a sanitized environment, you can significantly reduce the risk of infections and illnesses​ (CDC)​​ (OctoClean)​. Here are some specific benefits:

  • Food Safety: Sanitizing surfaces in the kitchen helps prevent cross-contamination from raw foods to other surfaces, reducing the risk of foodborne pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli.
  • Child Safety: Young children are more susceptible to germs because their immune systems are still developing. Regularly sanitizing toys, high chairs, and play areas can help keep them safe.
  • Healthcare Settings: In homes with elderly or immunocompromised individuals, regular sanitizing can help prevent infections that their weakened immune systems might struggle to fight off.

For more detailed information on the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, you can refer to resources from the CDC and other health organizations such as MedlinePlus and Allrecipes (Health)​​ (Allrecipes)​.


Definition: Disinfecting involves using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process is the most intensive form of cleaning and is specifically designed to destroy bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Disinfecting reduces the risk of infection by eliminating almost all pathogens on surfaces.

Methods: Achieving effective disinfection requires the use of disinfectants such as bleach solutions and hospital-grade sanitizers. Here are common methods:

  • Bleach Solutions: A diluted bleach solution (typically 1 part bleach to 9 parts water) is highly effective for disinfecting surfaces. It’s important to follow the instructions on the bleach container for safe use and to ensure the solution is at the right concentration.
  • Alcohol-based Disinfectants: These usually contain 60-70% isopropyl alcohol or ethanol. They are effective at killing most bacteria and viruses but must remain on the surface for at least 30 seconds to be effective.
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds: Often found in disinfecting wipes and sprays, these compounds are effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms. They are widely used in healthcare settings.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: This can be used as a disinfectant in concentrations around 3-6%. It is effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
  • UV-C Light: Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) uses UV-C light to destroy the DNA or RNA of microorganisms, rendering them inactive. It is used in both medical and some consumer applications, like disinfecting air, water, and surfaces.

For disinfectants to be effective, surfaces must remain wet for a specific amount of time, often referred to as “contact time.” This can range from 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on the product and the microorganism targeted. It’s crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct application and contact time.

Importance: Disinfecting is crucial in settings where there is a high risk of infection, such as healthcare facilities, bathrooms, and areas exposed to bodily fluids. Here’s why it’s essential:

  • Healthcare Settings: Disinfecting surfaces like hospital beds, medical equipment, and waiting room furniture prevents the spread of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). These infections can be caused by resistant bacteria like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
  • Bathrooms: Regular disinfection of bathroom surfaces, such as toilets, sinks, and floors, is necessary to prevent the spread of pathogens, including those that cause gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.
  • Kitchens: In food preparation areas, disinfecting surfaces helps prevent foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli.
  • General High-Touch Areas: Frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls can be breeding grounds for germs. Disinfecting these surfaces regularly can reduce the transmission of viruses, including those that cause colds and flu.

For further reading, see this CDC disinfection guideline and resources from other health organizations such as MedlinePlus and (CDC)​​ (Health)​​ (Allrecipes)​.

When to Use Each Method

Cleaning: Regularly in All Areas of Your Home or Office Cleaning should be performed consistently throughout all areas of your home or office to maintain general cleanliness and hygiene. This includes dusting, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, and wiping down surfaces with soap and water or general-purpose cleaners. Regular cleaning helps to remove dirt, dust, and some germs, which can contribute to a healthier living and working environment.

  • Example: Wiping down kitchen countertops and dining tables daily to remove food residues and prevent the buildup of grime.
  • Frequency: Daily or as needed, depending on the area and level of use.

Sanitizing: After Cleaning, Especially in Kitchens and Dining Areas Sanitizing is the next step after cleaning, particularly in areas where food is prepared and consumed, such as kitchens and dining areas. Sanitizing reduces the number of germs to safe levels, minimizing the risk of foodborne illnesses. This process is essential for surfaces that come into direct contact with food.

  • Example: Using a sanitizing spray or solution on kitchen countertops, cutting boards, and dining tables after cleaning them to ensure they are safe for food contact.
  • Frequency: Daily, after each use, or as part of a regular cleaning routine.

Disinfecting: When Someone Is Ill, in High-Touch Areas, and in Bathrooms Disinfecting should be carried out in situations where the risk of infection is higher, such as when someone in the household or office is ill, in high-touch areas, and in bathrooms. Disinfecting involves using chemicals that kill germs on surfaces, thereby reducing the spread of harmful pathogens.

  • Example: Disinfecting doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, toilet handles, and sink faucets to kill viruses and bacteria that can spread illnesses.
  • Frequency: Frequently during illness outbreaks, daily in high-touch areas, and regularly in bathrooms.

Understanding the Differences: Understanding the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting is key to maintaining a healthy environment. Each method serves a specific purpose and, when used appropriately, can help ensure that your home or office is not only clean but also safe from harmful germs.

  • Cleaning removes dirt and some germs, reducing their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
  • Sanitizing reduces germs to safe levels, especially important for food contact surfaces.
  • Disinfecting kills nearly all germs, crucial in preventing the spread of infections.

Stay Informed and Stay Healthy with Good Cleaner Co.’s Expert Advice: By using each method appropriately, you can create a healthier living and working space. Stay informed on the best cleaning practices and tips by following Good Cleaner Co.’s expert advice. For more detailed information on maintaining a clean and healthy environment, and for professional cleaning services, contact Good Cleaner Co. today.