The Difference Between Sanitation and Disinfection


When you clean your home, you probably use a variety of chemicals that help you sanitize or disinfect surfaces. While sanitizing and disinfecting your home or items in your home may seem like the same thing, there are some distinct differences. Knowing the differences can help you understand how to use certain chemicals. You may also need to change the chemicals used for cleaning projects or chores, because using the wrong type may not properly clean surfaces in your home.


  • Sanitizers reduce the levels of bacteria or other microbes to a safe level. Although the chemical cleaners will remove dirt and grime from areas, some microbes can still exist. Washing dishes is a common form of sanitization. Though dishwashing detergents clean, many of them don't disinfect. Disinfecting surfaces typically kills 100 percent of bacteria, and most microorganisms, which are smaller than bacteria. Complete eradication of microorganisms may not be possible with disinfectants.


  • Detergents mixed with water are a common form of sanitizer. You'll often mix a specific amount of the sanitizer with warm water to activate the chemical cleaning compounds, and wash or wipe areas with a sponge. Disinfectants may include a chemical solution sprayed onto areas or scrubbed into surfaces for cleaning. While you'll need to wash off the disinfectant cleaning compound with water, the majority of work doesn't require mixing the chemical with water.

Other Considerations

  • Sterilization is the only way to kill 100 percent of all microbes, bacteria and organisms on a surface. In most cases, cleaned surfaces are either sterile or not sterile; there's no such thing as "half sterile." In regular cleaning terms, you can call something sanitized or disinfected, but not sterilized. In these terms, then, there are three levels of clean: Sanitized is the lowest form of clean, disinfected is a cleaner level, and sterilized is the cleanest of the three.

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