Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting there is a difference

Written by  John Patton from Athea Labs
09 Jan
Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting there is a difference

Many people don’t understand the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, but depending on the surfaces and what you wish to accomplish, the distinctions between each can make a big difference when deciding what types of products should be used to accomplish the desired task at hand.

Cleaning is the physical action of removing germs, dirt, and debris. Detergents and soaps are often paired with a rag to offer the abrasion that will remove whatever is present on a surface. Mechanical cleaning can be extremely effective at removing germs from a surface.

Sanitizing kills at least 99.9% of a set of germs, on either hard surfaces or on hands. Hard surface sanitizers should not be used on skin, and hand sanitizers are not labeled for use on hard surfaces. Sanitizing utilizes chemicals to reduce bacteria on surfaces to a level that is considered safe by public health organizations. This is where dwell time comes into play. Dwell time is the amount of time that a surface must remain wet to allow the chemical to be in contact with the organism in order to kill it. A sanitizer that is approved for food contact surfaces must, at a minimum, reduce Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli bacteria by 99.999% in one minute and a water rinse is not allowed after sanitization has taken place.

A non-food contact sanitizer for hard surfaces must, at a minimum, reduce Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumonia or Enterobacter aerogenes bacteria by 99.9% within five minutes. You will often see dwell times of a minute or less for this type of sanitizer.

Disinfecting also uses chemicals in order to kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi on surfaces but to be considered a disinfectant, the product must kill 100% of microorganisms, except those in spore form, on a surface. Disinfecting often requires surfaces to remain wet longer than sanitizing and dwell times can range from around two minutes to as long as ten minutes. Not allowing for the appropriate dwell time will reduce the amount of bacteria that are killed.

In the case of both sanitizers and disinfectants, it’s important to note that products do not kill all types of bacteria, but only a standardized set. If you are looking to kill specific bacteria, virus, or fungi it is critical to read the label of the product you are using to make sure the product is capable of killing the microorganism you are targeting.

These differences are why the correct choice of product is so important for certain applications. Take a gym for example; this is a setting where users are often wiping down equipment with sanitizers or disinfectants immediately before or after use and not allowing the necessary dwell times to take place. Because proper dwell time is rarely achieved in this type of setting, the user is not actually sanitizing or disinfecting, and is simply cleaning. Often times a general cleaner and deodorizer is a better choice and will offer a better price point than a sanitizer or disinfectant does and be less harsh on the plastic, vinyl, and rubber that are often used in the construction of this type of equipment.