The difference between Sanitizing & Disinfecting
You could dub 2020 the year of many things: the year of working from home, the year of social distancing, the year of the global pandemic, and some other things that frankly we just won’t get into in this blog post.
We think that an apt title for 2020 could be “The Year of Sanitizing” or “The Year of Disinfecting,” maybe even “The Year of Sanitizing and Disinfecting.” What is the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting anyway? Are they the same?
You may think that sanitizing and disinfecting are the same thing. But, the truth is that sanitizing and disinfecting are different. During this year, when cleanliness is of the utmost importance, it’s essential to know the difference between the two so that you can keep yourself, your workplace, and your family as safe as possible in the wake of COVID-19.
Both sanitizing and disinfecting have the same goal: to clean and decontaminate surfaces by killing germs. But, the similarities end there.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sanitizers are products that kill at least 99.9% of germs. On the other hand, disinfectants are stronger and kill 99.999% of germs found on hard, non-porous objects and surfaces. So, when it comes down to it, sanitizers are not as strong as disinfectants. It is possible, however, that a product is both a sanitizer and a disinfectant. Take concentrated bleach as an example, it is a disinfectant, but when it is diluted it can be a sanitizer.
Sanitizing can be done by either disinfecting, cleaning, or both. It works to reduce the bacteria named on each product’s label on surfaces and in the laundry. EPA-approved sanitizers only have claims for killing bacteria. The CDC says that sanitizing is the process that works to destroy or eliminate all forms of microbial life. This process often takes place in healthcare facilities by physical or chemical methods. In general, sanitizing is more gentle than disinfecting. When you’re dealing with food, think of sanitizers. For example, if you are getting ready to cut meat on the counter, you’ll want to sanitize it rather than disinfect it because the residue is not as powerful, making it less harmful for your family that eats the food that has been prepared on the sanitized counter. Think of it like this: you wouldn’t dump bleach (disinfectant) on a counter and then chop vegetables (or at least we really hope you wouldn’t), but you would probably wipe down the counter with a disinfectant wipe and then prepare food.
When it comes to cleaning your hands, we know you’ve likely just wiped them off with your disinfectant wipe once you’re done cleaning other surfaces, but this is strongly discouraged. Since we’ve established that disinfectants are stronger than sanitizers, they should not go on the skin, or you risk damaging it. Use this rule of thumb instead, wipe off surfaces, and wash your hands. Of course, hand sanitizers are made specifically for cleaning hands on the go, and if you’re able to find any hand sanitizer in stock at your local store, it’s an excellent option for keeping yourself and your family protected from germs while on the run. Try to stick with hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to soap and water because medical experts prefer good old-fashioned handwashing over hand sanitizers.
On the other hand, disinfecting destroys or inactivates bacteria and viruses as identified on each product’s label, for example, coronavirus, on hard, non-porous surfaces. Disinfecting is the process of using chemicals to kill germs, where sanitizing works to lower the number of germs on surfaces.
Disinfectants are actually the only products that are EPA-approved to kill both viruses and bacteria on hard surfaces. According to the CDC, disinfecting is a process that eliminates all or most pathogenic microorganisms, with the exception of bacterial spores, on hard surfaces and objects. In healthcare settings, disinfecting takes place by liquid chemicals or wet pasteurization typically. Disinfecting is more common in medical settings because it’s meant for severe messes. In a healthcare setting, sanitizing wipes will not suffice. The more powerful disinfectant wipes are used to clean and kill germs in healthcare settings.
Examples of disinfectants include alcohol and bleach solutions, fully-concentrated bleach, formaldehyde, and disinfectant wipes.
When to sanitize
The goal of sanitizing is to reduce the growth and number of viruses, fungi, and bacteria. Sanitizing is essential when surfaces come into contact with food. Sanitizing is also a part of the process that laundry machines and dishwashers do to clean.
When to disinfect
The goal of disinfecting is to kill infected areas and remove microscopic organisms that are living on surfaces. The purpose of disinfecting is to stop the spread of viruses and diseases like COVID-19 and the common cold or flu. During these times, experts recommend disinfecting surfaces over sanitizing them. But, for best results, the CDC recommends routine cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. Routine disinfection of households should involve disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched, like doorknobs, handles, faucets, light switches, etc. You must use a household cleaner that has the EPA seal on it to ensure effectiveness. According to the CDC, if somebody in your household has symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19, you should disinfect high-touch surfaces daily.
How to disinfect
- Wear disposable gloves and throw the gloves away when you are done.
- If using reusable gloves, dedicate them for COVID-19 surfaces only and don’t use them for anything else.
- Wash your hands immediately after disinfecting is complete.
- Clean surfaces with soap and water before you start disinfecting
- According to the CDC, when disinfecting surfaces, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions of 70% alcohol, and most EPA-registered household disinfectants are effective.
- When disinfecting laundry, wash the items on the warmest possible setting and wear gloves throughout the process.
As you can see, sanitizing and disinfecting are different, but both should be used for optimal protection against viruses and germs and help keep your home and workspace clean and germ-free. Remember to disinfect all “high touch” areas daily in your home if someone in your household has symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19.