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Cleaning vs. Disinfecting vs. Sanitizing

Cleaning Bathroom

There has been a major shift towards healthier buildings due to a better understanding of the resulting positive effects on occupant wellbeing and productivity. With the focus on health, it is worthwhile to understand how cleaning and disinfecting help contribute favorably to the health of indoor occupants. Cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing are part of a broad approach to preventing infectious diseases, and though these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, it’s important to note that they are distinct. So, what exactly is the difference between these terms?  


Clean = Germs are Removed

Cleaning removes allergens and microorganisms from the environment. When a surface is clean, soap or detergent has been used to remove dirt, germs, and impurities. Cleaning helps reduce the number of germs that can lead to infection, however it does not necessarily kill any germs.

Cleaning alone can help increase employee productivity. According to a study conducted by Jeffrey L. Campbell, Ph.D., chair of facilities management at Brigham Young University, 88% of 1,481 people polled noted that productivity and learning were hindered by dirty environments. This included visible dirt and dust in corners and along walls, or dirt, dust, fingerprints, and marks on vertical and horizontal surfaces, among other visible messes.

Though cleaning removes germs and therefore has a positive impact on the health of indoor occupants, one problem with cleaning alone is the potential risk for cross-contamination when a disinfectant or germicide is not used.


Disinfect = Germs are Killed

Disinfecting a surface means that chemicals are being used to kill germs. Disinfecting does not necessarily mean that dirt, germs, and impurities are being removed from the surface, but by killing the germs, the risk of spreading infection is lowered.

For a disinfectant to kill germs, its labeled dwell time should always be allowed. A dwell time, or contact time, is the amount of time the manufacturer has determined, through laboratory testing, that the disinfectant should remain wet on a surface. If proper dwell times are not followed, germs and pathogens may survive the application.

Making sure the disinfectant stays wet is crucial. There is an array of factors that play into how long the disinfectant will stay wet including the application method and composition of ingredients in the disinfectant. Type of surface, humidity, air flow, and temperature are all factors that can affect the amount of time it takes the disinfectant to dry on a surface.  


Sanitize = Germ count is lowered to safe level as defined by public health standards

Sanitary surfaces can be created either by removing germs (cleaning) or killing germs (disinfecting).There are a few different methods used to achieve a sanitary surface: heat, radiation, and chemicals.

To sanitize through use of heat, steam, hot water, or hot air can be used at the appropriate temperature for the recommended amount of time.

For radiation, sanitation can be achieved through use of ultraviolet radiation.

Chemicals that are effective sanitizers at the proper concentration include chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium. Just as the proper dwell time must be followed for a disinfectant to be effective, a chemical sanitizer must also be allowed to sit for its recommended dwell time.

Other factors that influence the efficacy of a sanitizing chemical include temperature and concentration. Most chemical sanitizers should be kept between 55 degrees F and 120 degrees F. If the concentration of the sanitizing agent is too low, the microorganisms may survive the application. If the concentration is too high, the chemical could be toxic.   

Being able to understand the differences between these key phrases can help you determine the level of cleanliness necessary for a particular surface. In general, it is safe to clean surfaces where the risk of spreading pathogens from the surface is low. A disinfectant should be used on surfaces where there is a greater likelihood of pathogen transfer such as gym mats. Sanitation is commonly used on food contact surfaces as part of the food code. 

For innovative business owners, architects, contractors, and designers, sustainability has branched into a new trend of creating healthier buildings. Cleanliness is part of making the world a healthier and safer place by helping reduce the spread of disease, improving air quality, and positively impacting the physical and mental wellbeing of indoor occupants. For any of your floor cleaning chemical needs, our floor care experts are trained, knowledgeable, and ready to assist you at any time. 

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