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Although a lot of people may not be aware of the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, knowing it can often make or break how efficiently cleaning methods and products work when used—especially when it comes to disinfecting.

While the vast majority of households don’t typically don’t understand the key differences, much less know how to use their products properly, it’s always a good time to start learning.

Neat-ish.com is not a professional source for medical information. Always check with your doctor if you have any health concerns, questions, or want to know about Covid-19 or how to safeguard yourself and your family further with disinfecting or sanitizing. You can also visit the CDC, or Center for Disease Control and Prevention, for more information and tips.


Cleaning

Mop Cleaning Wooden Floor

Cleaning involves the basic role of removing materials such as dirt, grime, crumbs, impurities, dust, and other types of debris from surfaces. It does not necessarily remove germs or bacteria, as many people assume it will.

While the act of “cleaning” won’t remove all germs, it’s still a necessary first step in preparing to sanitize or disinfect. It’s also something that can sometimes reduce the number of low-level germs on certain surfaces, which is helpful either way.

Examples of Cleaning Methods

  • Vacuuming
  • Dusting
  • Mopping (with water, or water and mild soap only)
  • Sweeping
  • Cleaning products without antibacterial agents
  • Microfiber cloths

Sanitizing

Sanitizing surfaces in the house typically results in a slight reduction of organisms and/or contamination. It’s usually the second-most type of cleaning method people use within the average household, following regular cleaning.

Sanitizing can be slightly more convenient than actual disinfecting, especially when considering the time involved. However, sanitizing does not reduce nearly as many organisms or the same amount of contamination as disinfecting does.

Generally, sanitizing can do a fairly good job of removing or reducing some forms of bacteria. Still, sanitizing does not do as well at removing contamination involving most types of viruses or fungi.

Sanitizing tends to fall into 3 categories: chemical, heat, and radiation.

Naturally, heat and chemical methods are the most common methods to use for sanitization. This might occur in methods such as steam cleaning, using soap and water, applying high temperatures, or by applying specialized products that are designed specifically to sanitize.

NOTE: In most cases, products that claim to kill 99% bacteria but are labeled sanitizers are usually disinfectants. When in doubt, always contact the manufacturer or visit their website to find out specifically. However, not every disinfectant product is rated or tested to see if it kills certain severe viruses, such as COVID 19, so double-check if that’s your intent.

Some Sanitizing Methods

Disinfecting

The process of disinfecting items in your house is a little more complex than most people tend to think. It’s often the case where people fail to even read the instructions on cleaning products, which can lead to poor and inefficient results. In some situations, people may tend to assume that a certain product is designed to disinfect when the product may only be meant for basic cleaning or sanitizing. 

One of the more common mistakes, however, is not allowing a disinfecting product to sit, or dwell, long enough for the product to do its job. A standard timeframe to leave a disinfect on a surface is typically 10-15 minutes. This is generally the amount of time a surface needs to remain thoroughly saturated. If the product dries out before the time is up, it may be necessary to reapply it.

NOTE: As mentioned above, some products may not be rated or tested to see if they kill Coronavirus. So it may be beneficial to double check when possible and before purchasing. Many Clorox and Lysol products are rated for COVID 19.

Common Disinfecting Methods

  • Disinfectants, such as Lysol, Clorox, or industrial-strength
  • Bleach
  • Alcohol-based disinfectant cleaners 
scentiva mopping pads

Read our Clorox Scentiva Disinfecting Went Mopping Cloths Review and O-Cedar Spin Mop Review for comparisons on cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting floors.


Conclusion

Under normal circumstances, disinfecting or using antibacterial products isn’t always necessary to use regularly. Sometimes going overboard with it is discouraged to prevent superbugs or weakened immune systems.

However, in light of the coronavirus, sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry. This makes it a good idea to disinfect on a more consistent basis, depending on your situation and how bad the virus is spreading in your area.

Even though it can sometimes be hard to understand the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, it’s generally a good idea to consider doing roughly all three methods while trying to disinfect.

You can achieve this by cleaning the surface, ridding it of any debris, and following up with sanitizing methods, such as higher heat and using soap and water, whenever applicable and to the best of your ability. Then follow up, if necessary, with disinfecting.

When in doubt, speak with your doctor or look at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

Keep the following disinfecting tips in mind for the best success:

  1. Always clean the surface you plan to disinfect as much as possible before disinfecting.
  2. Read care/cleaning instructions for the product or item you plan to disinfect. When in doubt, you can try to contact the manufacturer.
  3. Make sure to allow enough dwell time for disinfectants to work properly, which usually entails 10-15 minutes.
  4. It’s usually a good idea to see if the surface is still saturated during the dwell time since this is required by most disinfecting products to do its job properly.
  5. In cases where you’re concerned about heavy contamination, it may be beneficial to disinfect twice in case something was missed.
  6. Once allowed the proper amount of time to work and sit, wipe the disinfected surface clean.
  7. Wash your hands and clean any products and tools you’ve touched or used while cleaning and disinfecting a surface or item.

Again, if you’re still unsure about the best methods to use; the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting; or how often to disinfect around your home to combat Covid-19 specifically, please speak with your doctor or check with a local official.

For tips on areas and items to clean, sanitize, or disinfect around the home, click here.

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