What’s The Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing

What’s The Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing

Friday May 21st, 2021

From the bathrooms to the bedrooms, it’s important to keep each area of our house tidy. Proper cleaning is a core tenet of fostering a healthy, happy home.

During the past year and a half—as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the world—most of us have read, watched, and heard more about cleaning than in all the years leading up to 2020. With that onslaught of news, a variety of new cleaning-centric words flooded our lexicon. Suddenly, it seemed like we were to “disinfect” and “sanitize” everything around us.

But what exactly is the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing? To help you understand the difference, Gem City Cleaning Solutions put together this easy-to-use at-a-glance guide.

What is Cleaning?

Cleaning a surface with a sponge, soap, and water.

Cleaning can help disinfect and sanitize surfaces, but there is a distinction. Cleaning involves removing dirt, dust, and debris, and impurities from surfaces and objects. It requires physically scrubbing or washing surfaces and objects (typically with soap and water). While it does remove germs, it doesn’t necessarily kill them.

What is Disinfecting?

Disinfecting requires a person to use chemicals, or disinfectants, to kill bacteria and viruses. Common household disinfectants include bleach and alcohol. To be effective, a person must leave disinfectant on a surface for a few seconds on average.

Unlike cleaning, disinfecting doesn’t eliminate dirt, dust, crumbs, and other residues. For this reason, it’s important to clean surfaces and objects before disinfecting them.

What is Sanitizing?

Sanitizing surfaces removes and lowers the number of germs, but does not effectively kill all germs. It is crucial to allow sanitizer to sit and dry on a surface (or even your hands) in order for the product to work properly. Sanitizing solutions should contain at least 60% or more alcohol.

A woman holding various cleaning supplies.

By sanitizing, you can still lower your chances of infection and illness. From disinfectant wipes to all-purpose cleaners, there are many products that help you clean and disinfect at the same time to make sanitization easy. For the best results, soap and hot water are recommended.

Sanitizers vs. Disinfectants

Sanitizers and disinfectants are two types of antimicrobial pesticides that kill viruses and bacteria. It’s important to note that there are no sanitizer-only products with Environmental Protection Agency-approved virus claims. For that reason, it’s important to use a disinfectant or a blended disinfectant and sanitizer product, as they're the only EPA-approved solution for killing both bacteria and viruses.

*Special Note: When looking for products that are effective against COVID-19, we recommend using a product from the EPA List N. These products have been tested by the EPA and have:

  • Demonstrated efficacy against COVID-19
  • Demonstrate efficacy against a pathogen that is harder to kill than COVID-19
  • Demonstrate efficacy against a different human coronavirus similar to COVID-19

What Surfaces and Objects Should Be Cleaned & Disinfected?

A professional cleaner wiping down a high-touch surface.

High-touch surfaces and objects should be cleaned and disinfected several times a day when time permits. These objects include, but are not limited to:

  • Countertops
  • Doorknobs
  • Sink handles and knobs
  • Toilet Flushers
  • Light Switches
  • Remotes

If you are a commercial space owner, such as an office building or restaurant, ensure that these areas are disinfected regularly and thoroughly. According to the CDC, cleaning once a day is enough if there have been no suspected cases of COVID-19 in the facility.

Stay Safe While You Clean, Disinfect, and Sanitize

Many household cleaners and disinfectants contain potentially hazardous chemicals. To ensure everyone in your home stays safe, we recommend:

  • Storing cleaners and disinfectants in a lockable cabinet when young children are in the house
  • Avoiding the mixing of multiple cleaners and disinfects
  • Wearing gloves, eye protection, and masks when appropriate (always read warning labels)
  • Following the directions on the label if the cleaner or disinfectant is swallowed, inhaled, or comes in contact with skin

Homemade alternatives to chemical-based cleaners.

If you want to avoid potentially hazardous chemicals while still staying clean, there are a few alternatives to chemical cleaners that can get the job done, such as:

  • Water
  • Baking Soda
  • Castile Soap
  • Cornstarch
  • Lemon Juice
  • Borax
  • White Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Essential Oils

Most of these products can be combined to achieve the perfect cleaning solution. For example, an equal combination of water and vinegar, with a few drops of essential oil, will create an all-purpose cleaner. However, you should always conduct research prior to mixing any two or more ingredients together. Products like castile soap, vinegar, and lemon juice do not mix well with one another.

Hiring a Cleaner Service

While only “Clean” may be in the name, cleaner services will help also disinfect and sanitize the appropriate surfaces and objects in your home. In conjunction with having a safer home in terms of the level of germs and viruses on surfaces and objects, hiring a cleaning service comes with an array of potential benefits. Research shows that a cleaner home can elevate your mood, make you more productive, and help you breathe better!

Whether you don’t have time to clean, disinfect, and sanitize your home or you’re just looking for a deeper clean and a helpful set of hands, Gem City Cleaning Solutions is here to meet your needs. Reach out to us through our contact page or call us today.

Thank you, Gem City Cleaning Solutions!

Erie, PA

“My house has never been cleaner!”

-Jane S.

Quality, Timeliness, Thoroughness, & Customer Service

Erie, PA

“FANTASTIC job .. extraordinary!!”


Sensational cleaners!

“Sensational cleaners! I am recommending them to my friends and family.”

-Christina G.

Grateful for you!!

“Thank you so much!!! The house is lovely. You did an awesome job! Grateful for you!!”

-Jodi A.

Reasonable price move-in / move-out

“Did an amazing job for an extremely reasonable price!! Absolutely thrilled with the deep move in cleaning they did on my new home!”

-Kelly C.

Really Impressed

“Really impressed with this small business owner's attention to detail as well as her hands-on approach. The entire first experience was above all expectations and we are looking forward to many more to come.”

-Ronald K.