The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Because of the recent pandemic, people are keenly more aware of the need to protect themselves from unseen viruses. Unfortunately, outside of how far apart to stand and when to wear a mask, there is not a lot in the news about health and safety protocols. It’s hard to know if cleaning efforts are actually killing viruses or just moving them around the house and office. In this post, we will cover the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, so you can better identify what to do, and when.

Cleaning vs Sanitizing vs Disinfecting

Surface Cleaning

Cleaning surfaces removes dust, debris and dirt from the item being cleaned. It involves scrubbing, washing and rinsing surfaces. Cleaning is an important step in protecting your surfaces as dirt and dust can attract bacteria and viruses. However, cleaning alone does not eliminate bacteria or viruses. Deeper measures must be taken to get rid of illness-inducing microorganisms.


While EPA-registered sanitizers are approved for killing bacteria and some other types of microbes, they are not approved for killing viruses. Check the product’s label to see what the sanitizer is capable of eliminating. As for sanitizing by steam cleaning, viruses need a longer application time than some applicators realize, and therefore it is not as reliable as EPA-registered chemical disinfectants, according to Heidi Wilcox, Applied Microbiologist and Founder of Wilcox EVS.


Disinfecting kills both bacteria and viruses. Check for EPA-registered disinfectants to see which ones are recommended for disinfecting hard, nonporous surfaces. It’s important to note that disinfectants are meant for surface cleaning and not safe for human ingestion. Never inject or otherwise consume chemical disinfectants.

Disinfecting Surfaces Yourself

To clean easy-to-reach surfaces yourself, follow these EPA guidelines:

6 steps for safe disinfectant use

Disinfecting the Air and Hard-to-Reach Surfaces

When you need to get into nooks and crannies, and to disinfect the air, you will need to enlist some professional help who has the proper equipment and experience with disinfection. Here is what to look for from a pro service: 

  • Fogging/spraying capabilities. Look for a service that uses ULV foggers. Hays + Sons’ foggers apply at a droplet size of up to 120 microns, well above OSHA requirements, allowing the product to dwell wet for at least 10 minutes and kill all bacteria and viruses.
  • Hard surface cleaning with high quality disinfectant.  For use in high touch areas, including door knobs, railings, light switches, sinks, countertops, and desks, you’ll want to be sure your professional is using a non-toxic EPA-registered List-N disinfectant such as Concrobium that’s tested to kill over 99.99% of viruses.
  • Personal protective equipment. It’s important that you choose a team that has access to full PPE, including a bodysuit, gloves, and respirator masks. For their protection and yours, PPE should be on hand.
  • Disinfected equipment. If your cleaning professional is not disinfecting its vehicles and equipment, they could be carrying viruses from one location to another. Make sure they are taking the proper precautions.
  • Experienced. With a surge in office cleaning requests, a lot of inexperienced cleaning service companies are popping up. Hays + Sons has been disinfecting for 38 years.
  • Certified. Hays + Sons is certified by the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration) which is the standard for decontamination.

All things considered, cleaning and disinfecting should definitely be carried out on a regular basis. Because disinfecting is most effective at killing viruses and bacteria, we recommend you invest in professional services that are more cost effective than losing your employees to a virus for weeks. Contact Hays + Sons for your commercial disinfecting needs today!

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