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Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting – What’s the difference? 

There is a big difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. If your home or business has been exposed to dangerous pathogens, it is imperative to know the difference so that you can make sound decisions. An area can look spotless, but can actually be teaming with bacteria and other harmful pathogens.

Cleaning: visible soil, dust, clutter, and food are removed from surfaces. Cleaning doesn’t get rid of germs, but it does reduce the overall number of germs by removing visible debris.

Sanitizing: a chemical process that lessens and/or kills 99.999% of bacteria in 30 seconds during the Official Detergent Sanitizer Test (a public health test). Sanitizing is used in bar and restaurant situations where areas must be treated quickly.

Disinfecting: kills ALL organisms in 10 minutes during the AOAC (Association of Analytical Communities) Use Dilution Test, (a test regulated by the EPA). Disinfecting requires a much stronger solution than sanitizing. Taking 10 minutes to disinfect a restaurant booth would not be efficient or practical, but in a hospital room where blood and other bodily fluids have been present, it is essential.

Important note: You cannot sanitize or disinfect an area if it is visibly dirty. So, cleaning an area is always the first step. In order to effectively sanitize or disinfect an area, all dirt, dust, grease, food particles and other debris must be removed first.

Given the above information, how do you make a decision whether to clean, sanitize, or disinfect? In many situations, all three are done. Take again, a restaurant, as an example. When a restaurant is busy, staff will clean and quickly sanitize tabletops, glasses, etc. After the restaurant is closed, staff can take more time to disinfect areas. A good rule of thumb is: sanitize places where food has been, disinfect places where bodily fluids or fecal matter have been.

All of the above holds true for normal everyday cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. If, however, you have to deal with a hoarding situation, contamination from death and decomposition (link to blog article), or other more extreme situations, it is best to – at the very least – have a professional assess the situation for you. Please call on Alabama Bioclean if you are ever in doubt of what you should do.