This post is intended to clarify the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. You might think “sanitizing” a surface would kill the flu virus but you could be in for a flu-like surprise…
While the terms “cleaning”, “sanitizing” and “disinfecting” are often used interchangeably, they are quantifiably different in their actual meaning. In flu seasons like this it’s important to understand the differences so you can keep yourself and those around you healthy.
To put it simply, cleaners remove physical soils like dirt or dried ketchup from a surface; sanitizers reduce the amount of specific bacteria on a surface; disinfectants kill a wide range of bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold and other pathogens.
To be labelled and sold in the United States as either a sanitizer or a disinfectant a chemical must be certified as such by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To be certified as either a sanitizer or a disinfectant the chemical must meet pre-defined criteria including testing as effective at killing specific germ sets. Chemical labels are required to list each individual germ against which they’ve been tested as effective, and no sanitizer or disinfectant will kill all microorganisms. Make sure you’re using the right chemical for the job!
In order to be effective all sanitizers and disinfectants require a certain amount of time on the surface, known as “dwell time.” Some chemicals may require as much as 10 minutes of dwell time, while others can be effective in a minute or less. If you spray a sanitizer or disinfectant and then immediately wipe the surface dry, chances are you left behind most if not all the microorganisms and potential pathogens. It’s important to understand how much dwell time your sanitizer or disinfectant will require to be effective.
Cleaners are simple when compared to sanitizers and disinfectants. They use a range of detergents and emulsifiers to suspend the soil in the liquid, making it much easier to remove. While “cleaners” don’t kill germs, they can remove a contaminated substance from a surface. Cleaners can also help remove the layers of a soil that is hiding a pathogen. Removing the soil will expose the pathogen and leave it vulnerable to a secondary sanitizing or disinfecting step. So while an all surface cleaner won’t disinfect your baby’s high chair, it will remove the caked on baby food containing the nasty flu bug. Many “quaternary” disinfectants are safe to spray on surfaces and let air dry if you want to be thorough when using your favorite all purpose cleaner that does not disinfect.
For questions about cleaners, sanitizers, or disinfectants, for recommendations or to purchase, contact us today!