Skip to main content

Disinfect or sanitize: What’s the difference, and does it matter?

There’s never been a time where having a clean home matters more. But while regular cleaning, the kind that is done with soap and water and a little bit of elbow grease, might work in some situations, for others, it’s about a much deeper kind of cleaning. 

When the goal is germ control, the terms disinfect or sanitize come to mind. Disinfecting and sanitizing are two different things—and offer two different methods for germ control—so here’s the difference:

Related Videos

Disinfecting vs. sanitizing, what’s the difference?

Disinfecting: Disinfecting kills, destroys or inactivates germs on hard, non-porous surfaces through the use of chemicals. Although disinfecting doesn’t actually remove germs or clean dirty surfaces, it will kill the germs on contact, lowering the risk of spreading infection.

Sanitizing: Sanitizing reduces bacteria and removes and lowers germs to a level deemed safe by public health standards on hard surfaces and laundry. 

The case for disinfecting

Disinfecting hard surfaces is one of the most effective ways to lower the risk of spreading germs through touch. Disinfectants are the only products approved by the EPA to kill both viruses and bacteria on hard surfaces, including COVID-19. 

During quarantine or regular cold and flu season, it is recommended to disinfect your home two to three times per day. If someone in your household is sick, that number should increase to four times per day for high-touch surfaces, including doorknobs, TV remotes, faucets, and cell phones. 

When to sanitize

Sanitizers can reduce or kill 99.9 to 99.999 percent of listed bacterial micro-organisms on pre-cleaned surfaces—meaning you should first clean a surface with ordinary soap-like cleaners and water before using sanitizers. There are two types of sanitizers available for hard surfaces: food contact sanitizers (safe to use on food-prep areas) and non-food contact options, which can be used on most other hard surfaces.

What about green cleaning?

Green cleaning includes products and procedures that do not emit any pollutants when used and are safe for the environment. Green cleaning is important for the environment and the overall health of the general public. Although there are several effective “green certified” sanitizing products, there are no “green certified” disinfectant cleansers known to kill surface germs and viruses. There are, however, a limited number of green cleaning methods, including ozone cleaning, that can kill germs without harm to the environment.

And the winner is …

By sanitizing, you reduce and/or kill bacteria on surfaces, but that does not include fungus or viruses. While sanitizing is certainly better than merely cleaning, if your goal is to eliminate surface bacteria, germs, and viruses, your results will be dramatically better when you use a disinfectant. 

Now, more than ever, it’s vital to maintain a clean, healthy house. But knowing which type of cleanser you need for every situation will help you make the right choice for your home, yourself, and the environment. 

Editors' Recommendations

Using these popular floor cleaners is like inhaling pesticides, study says
woman mopping floor

There’s nothing that makes us feel more productive than a spotless house. Cleaning can be a chore (literally), but ticking items off to-do lists, the fresh scent of a recently cleaned room, and a space cleared of all clutter is the perfect environment to sit back, relax, and unwind.

Unfortunately, there’s a danger lurking in your cleaning closet. According to recent research, there’s a chemical in some household cleaners so bad it’s basically like breathing in the polluted air of a busy urban road (so much for that fresh, clean scent). It’s frequently added to cleaners and furniture polish, which means you probably have it at home.

Read more
The secret to a clean house is sitting in your medicine cabinet
household uses for mouthwash shutterstock 1697871613

Running low on cleaning products? Foul odors around your home? You don't always need fancy cleaning supplies to get your home clean and fresh in a pinch. You just need this simple cleaning hack. There's one household product sitting in your medicine cabinet that can unexpectedly serve as a backup cleaner: mouthwash. That's right, the product that freshens your mouth can also freshen your home. Here's how.

How is using mouthwash a cleaning hack?
Minty fresh mouthwash doesn't just freshen your breath with artificial flavors. It has antibacterial and antiseptic properties that kill bad breath at its source, which is almost always bacteria. Cleaning your home is similar to cleaning your mouth. You want to get rid of bacteria that would produce foul odors and possibly cause illness.
Household uses for mouthwash
We'll walk you through how to use that breath freshener to eliminate bacteria hot spots in your house. Without further ado, here are some unexpected cleaning jobs that your mouthwash can help with in your home.
Cleans your toilet in a pinch
If you're out of toilet bowl cleaner, mouthwash works like a charm for a quick clean. With only 1/4 cup of mouthwash, your toilet will be sparkling and fresh. Simply pour it right into the bowl and let it sit for 30 minutes before scrubbing out the bowl with your toilet brush.

Read more
What’s reducetarianism? Why you’re going to be hearing it a whole lot more
reducetarian diet young woman holding pan with vegan pasta dish

There’s an emerging food trend gaining popularity in 2022: reducetarianism. It’s a diet for those who cut back on eating animal products but don’t go full-blown vegan or vegetarian.

Anyone who reduces their consumption of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs but doesn’t fully stop eating them is a reducetarian. Of course, many people have practiced reducetarianism at some point — the plant-heavy diet itself isn’t anything radically new. But it wasn't until fairly recently that it’s been assigned a term with a definition, launched a movement, and sparked a food trend.

Read more