Cleaning, Sanitizing, or Disinfection – What is the Difference?

Amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, more and more people are searching for the most effective ways to protect themselves and their families against the risk of getting ill. People are now consciously taking personal protective measures, such as: wearing masks outdoors, cleaning and disinfecting their hands more frequently and avoiding crowded places as much as possible by, say, doing two-week’s worth of shopping in one go. 

Well, buying large amounts of toilet paper, won’t do much in keeping you safe. Instead, you need to take proactive measures to regularly disinfect your home and workplace in addition to your personal hygiene efforts.

But how does disinfection differ from deep cleaning or sanitizing, many may ask? 

As often the above terms are used interchangeably, we’ve decided to make things clearer for you and explore the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting in this post.

Sanitize vs disinfect – what’s the difference?

The main difference between disinfection and sanitation is that the first process is designed to kill all harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi on surfaces, whereas the latter is associated with deep cleaning items and surfaces with a range of sanitizing products that will remove dirt and germs, without the guarantee that all types of pathogens will be completely neutralized. In other words, using a sanitizer will not necessarily kill 100% the virus, or eliminate certain bacteria, but it will only reduce a number of harmful microorganisms.

Let’s see, then, when deep cleaning and sanitation are used, on one hand, and when disinfection is appropriate, on the other. 

Deep cleaning and sanitizing

The general sanitizing of floors, bathroom fixtures, items, food preparation surfaces, etc. can ensure that the above are clean, as well as some types of bacteria are removed or reduced in number. The products used contain different types of cleaning agents, which, may not be effective against viruses, fungi and dangerous bacteria.


Disinfectants are designed to kill completely all types of pathogens on a particular surface. The process is applied in medical facilities and labs, in food production establishments and wherever there’s a need for increasing the safety of people in particular circumstances and environments.

Levels of disinfection

We won’t get too scientific here, but it’s good to mention that there are different levels of disinfection. For example, alcohol-based disinfectants are classed as intermediate to high-level disinfectants, depending on the percentage of ethanol or isopropanol alcohol the product contains. Lipid-enveloped viruses like the coronavirus and various bacteria will be killed with an alcohol-based disinfectant (above 60%).

Intermediate-level disinfectants, such as bleach and other chlorine-based products, are also effective against many types of pathogens, including fungi, viruses and bacteria. Oxidising agents like hydrogen peroxide are in the category of high-level disinfectants, along with aldehyde-based biocides. These are used for disinfecting medical equipment, for example, and can be applied against non-enveloped viruses (norovirus, rhinovirus), as well.

Low-level disinfectants can be in fact many types of all-purpose sanitisers that contain ammonium-based substances. These will have some antibacterial properties but will not be the first choice in the fight against fast-spreading viral diseases.

Last but not least, we should mention here the process of sterilisation and what it involves. Apart from chemical sterilisation that uses high-level disinfectants, items and surfaces can be sterilised by using irradiation, heat and steam. Again, sterilisation is used to ensure that medical devices and food preparation equipment are completely free of pathogens, especially to avoid health risks, regarding vulnerable groups of people (infants, hospital patients and so on).

How to disinfect your home

But let’s go back to what you can do to disinfect your home (or your workplace, for that matter) during dire times of a global health-risk crisis that involves a highly-contagious virus being on the loose.

  • Regularly clean hard floors with bleach. Or use another type of an effective floor disinfectant. 
  • Wipe high-touch surfaces with an alcohol-based disinfectant (70%). Surfaces and items that are touched constantly by people need to be disinfected several times a day. These are all types of handles and knobs, light switches, furniture, food preparation surfaces, desks, bathroom/toilet surfaces and locks, appliance buttons and so on (never spray the product directly over electrical fixtures).
  • Clean carpets and upholstery with a hot water extraction machine. It’s good to consider professionally cleaning your carpets and soft furniture with hot water extraction cleaning and a proven antibacterial/antiviral disinfectant, as well.
  • Wash clothes at a high-temperature setting – Potentially exposed clothing, linen and washable rugs should be washed at high temperature.
  • Disinfect personal items. Despite washing and disinfecting your hands more often, you should regularly disinfect items that you may be touching throughout the day.

The importance of regular home cleaning

Well, cleaning your home regularly is important to keep your indoor environment healthy and pleasant. This is even more important during a pandemic situation. Why? You see, disinfection is generally a follow-up health-prevention measure after you’ve first cleaned your home. For example, you wouldn’t disinfect your kitchen counter top while covered in dry tomato sauce stains would you? You would first clean the area and then proceed with the disinfection process.

Call a professional to help you out

Corona Disinfecting George

We are now offering a brand new service available in George, Western Cape. You can book a effective anti-viral disinfection service which uses non-toxic, chlorine-free products that are effective against a number of highly-contagious viruses and dangerous bacteria. This is an extremely sought-after service, performed by trained professionals. These professionals have been cleared of any potential exposure to viral agents or any other contagious diseases. If you need more information on how we can disinfect your property, please get in touch with us!


  • Disinfecting needs to be done with proven antibacterial and virucidal products, for the process to have the desired effect.
  • Not all disinfectants are made equal.
  • To ensure that you are protected in a pandemic situation, you should keep a high level of personal hygiene, which includes washing clothing and disinfecting personal items more regularly on top of cleaning your hands.
  • And don’t panic! After all, the use of common sense is good enough for you to stay safe and protect any of your vulnerable loved ones.

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