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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.
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
- Mopping (with water, or water and mild soap only)
- Cleaning products without antibacterial agents
Sanitizing surfaces in the house typically result 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 in regards to how much time is 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.
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.
Common Disinfecting Methods
- Disinfectants, such as Lysol, Clorox, or industrial-strength
- Alcohol-based disinfectant cleaners
Read our Clorox Scentiva Disinfecting Went Mopping Cloths Review and O-Cedar Spin Mop Review for comparisons on cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting floors.
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 try 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.
Keep the following disinfecting tips in mind for the best success:
- Always clean the surface you plan to disinfect as much as possible before disinfecting.
- Read care/cleaning instructions for the product or item you plan to disinfect. When in doubt, you can try to contact the manufacturer.
- Make sure to allow enough dwell time for disinfectants to work properly, which usually entails 10-15 minutes.
- 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.
- In cases where you’re concerned about heavy contamination, it may be beneficial to disinfect twice in case something was missed.
- Once allowed the proper amount of time to work and sit, wipe the disinfected surface clean.
- Wash your hands and clean any products and tools you’ve touched or used while cleaning and disinfecting a surface or item.
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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