What is the Difference Between Sanitizing and Disinfecting?

When the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out, people scrambled to get their hands on any disinfectant they could find. Lysol and Clorox wipes became such a hot commodity that they began selling for exorbitant prices on Amazon. Many stores began promoting their cleanliness in advertisements, including Target, which has a cute one about an ever-smiling manager mopping her building’s outside entryway at sunrise.

All of that, it appears, may have been for naught. According to a science brief released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this week, the average person’s risk of contracting COVID-19 from a surface is one in 10,000 or 0.01 percent. While the brief acknowledges that people can become infected with COVID-19 by touching an infected surface and then touching their nose, mouth, or eyes, it also states that the risk is “generally considered to below.”

Following that, the CDC issued new cleaning guidelines, stating that most people can get by with regular household cleaners containing soap and detergent. (However, the CDC advises using disinfectants if you have someone in your home with known COVID-19 infection.)

Washing your hands repeatedly (or sanitizing them if you don’t have access to soap and water) and cleaning frequently touched surfaces appear to be fairly self-explanatory ways to protect yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is until you have to make a decision about which products to use.

While sanitizers and disinfectants are often used interchangeably, they are two different products used in different situations. Here’s everything you need to know about sanitizers and disinfectants, including when to use them, where to use them, and how to use them.

What’s the difference between disinfectants and sanitizers?

Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are all defined differently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Cleaning surfaces removes germs, dirt, and other impurities, but it does not always kill them.

According to public health measures or requirements, sanitizing reduces the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, either by killing or removing them.

Disinfecting surfaces or objects kills germs.

In short, think of cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting as a spectrum, with cleaning at one end and disinfecting at the other. 

If you want to get technical, sanitizers are chemical products that can kill at least 99.9% of germs on hard surfaces; according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (that percentage should go up to 99.99 percent of germs on surfaces used for food service). On the other hand, disinfectants are more powerful, killing 99.999 percent of germs on hard, nonporous surfaces or objects.

The distinction comes down to the fact that sanitizing solutions aren’t as powerful as disinfecting solutions. Some products, however, can function as both sanitizers and disinfectants. Concentrated bleach, for example, is a case in point, according to Dr. Calello: It could be a disinfectant, but it could also be a sanitizer if it’s very diluted (meaning, again, that it kills fewer bacteria and viruses).

So, when do you disinfect, and when do you sanitize?

There are specific cleaning procedures for groceries, household surfaces such as doorknobs, and your hands, and it’s critical to follow them exactly. Let’s start with the basics: You don’t need to use Clorox wipes (or any other disinfectant) or a sanitizer to clean them. When you bring them into your home, all you have to do is clean them (with water, not soap).

On the other hand, disinfectants should be saved for larger messes or frequently touched areas of your home, such as doorknobs, toilet handles, and even sinks. Countertops, on the other hand, can be tricky—best it’s to sanitize any surfaces used for food preparation so that any chemical residue isn’t as strong and potentially harmful.

When it comes to your hands, it may be tempting to wipe them down with a disinfecting wipe after using it on other surfaces, but don’t: That can be very harmful to your skin, according to Dr. Calello, who adds that the poison center where she works has seen people using disinfectants on their bodies. She claims that a man who obtained very strong, industrial-use disinfectant wipes developed a blistering rash. “Some people try to ‘disinfect’ their hands with products that should not be used on the skin.”

Finally, Donald Ford, MD, a family medicine doctor at Cleveland Clinic, recommends following this simple rule: “Wipe off surfaces, [but] wash your hands.” Because “good” bacteria live on your skin, when you apply something to your hands that kills almost all of them, you’re also killing off some that are beneficial and natural. Dr. Calello explains, “There’s a reason we don’t apply something that kills every organism” to the skin (hence hand sanitizer, which should contain 60 percent alcohol). However, it’s essential to remember that hand sanitizer is fine if you’re out in public, but if you have the option, it’s always better to wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds!).

While COVID-19 has certainly resulted in a significant increase in people purchasing and using more sanitizing and disinfecting products. The Local Leader in Commercial Cleaning and Disinfection Services. Call Today at 570-675-5525