The Differences Between Cleaning, Disinfecting and Sanitizing

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While most people probably use the terms cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing interchangeably in everyday life, they do not mean the same thing. Misuse of these terms, especially within the biohazard remediation and virucidal disinfection industry, can cause misunderstandings and, importantly, could have real-life consequences.

Read, ‘Knowing the Difference Between Disinfectants & Antimicrobials.

What is Cleaning?

Cleaning, by definition, is simply removing germs, dirt, grease, and grime from a surface. Generally, this is done with simple soap and water and has no bearing on the killing of germs, bacteria, or viruses. It removes them and makes surfaces look good and “clean” to the naked eye. This is why reputable companies in the biohazard remediation and infectious disease disinfection industry never just “clean.”

What is Disinfecting?

Disinfecting uses specialized chemicals to kill germs, bacteria, or viruses on surfaces. Although disinfecting does not necessarily give a “clean” look, it is highly effective in neutralizing and eradicating active germs to stop the spread of infection. You should be aware of which types of chemicals combat which germ you are trying to neutralize. Disinfectants are very carefully and deliberately created to treat certain bacteria, so they are rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. They have different kill spectrums, cure times, mixing instructions, and importantly, application directions, so be sure to read the label carefully when selecting and using a disinfectant. A disinfect is not effective if it is not used properly. 

Keep in mind, it is not best practice to disinfect an area if it is visibly dirty. Cleaning areas and removing visible debris is always the first step.

Read more on disinfecting COVID-19.

What is Sanitizing?

Sanitizing is simply lowering the number of germs on a surface to a safe level, as prescribed by public health authorities. It does not necessarily mean that the presence of germs is totally eradicated, but rather that they are not numerous enough to cause immediate health concerns. A professional biohazard remediation and infectious disease disinfection company should guarantee disinfection, not sanitization. Sanitization does not remove the threat posed by viruses and infectious diseases.

Request Verifiable Surface Testing

Upon completion of any remediation job, verifiable surface testing should be done. For bacteria or germs, using adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing technology can guarantee hospital-level standards of disinfection. For COVID-19, RT-PCR technology (via independently accredited lab) can be used to determine the presence of SARS-CoV-2 on fomites (objects likely to carry diseases) and hard surfaces. Surface testing provides an extra layer of measurability and accountability, and is imperative to both proactive controls and the efficacy of containment measures.  This process can be done pre or post-disinfection and is recommended to be performed on a regularly scheduled basis after preventative disinfection. 

Aftermath Services: 24/7 Commercial Biohazard Remediation

Aftermath Services has over 20 years of experience in biohazard remediation, crime scene cleanup, and virucidal disinfection. We are dedicated to helping people get on the road to recovery by fully disinfecting affected properties in unsafe living conditions, including unattended deaths, homicides, suicides and coronavirus. In addition, we also possess the necessary certifications and licenses to complete disinfection in accordance with state and federal guidelines/laws. A qualified biohazard remediation provider should always have the appropriate licenses and certificates readily available upon request. View our 28-Point Checklist and learn what to look for when selecting a professional remediation company.

Aftermath Services is available 24/7/365 so get in touch now to have a team of professionals at your doorstep within a few hours. Contact us for rapid response assistance across the U.S.


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