Disinfectants v Sanitizers: Do you know the difference?
Disinfectants vs Sanitizers.
To the uninitiated these two species of chemical cleaner may
appear to be one and the same. However, the informed cleaning professional company and
individual are well aware that there are subtle but important differences between the two
The terms disinfecting and sanitizing have often been used on a substitutable basis, as if they
referred to exactly the same material. This development in nomenclature is an unfortunate
error, as it sews the seeds for significant confusion to result among the cleaning industry and
the public at large.
A common but harmful misconception between Disinfectants & Sanitizers
The misunderstandings that result when the two products are confused can lead to the
development of unsatisfactory cleaning procedures. This can be especially damaging in
places such as hospitals, where the spread of harmful bacteria, that can often present a grave
threat to the lives of patients, can result if surfaces are not cleaned properly.
It is therefore vital that we define what we mean by the terms sanitizing and disinfecting.
Sanitizing can refer to the act of reducing germs on floors, counter tops and other surfaces,
to levels that are mandated by laws and regulations relating to public health in a particular
jurisdiction. Disinfecting on the other hand, refers to the act, usually through the use of
chemicals, of destroying or at least incapacitating most, if not all, germs present.
The action of disinfecting will ideally involve the use of commercial grade products that will
kill bacteria found on surfaces, while sanitizer products are usually concerned with making
surfaces and floors safe for humans.
Differences are Subtle but Important
In terms of the relative efficiency of both sanitizing products and disinfecting products, there
can be considerable variation, depending on the chemicals or brand type employed.
Sanitizing products typically are able to kill over 99% of germs. It is therefore apparent
that sanitizing products can perform a fine job in most cleaning situations. Obviously
it is necessary that the sanitizing products be properly utilised in order for this rate of
effectiveness to be accurate in every circumstance.
Disinfecting products, on the other hand, are widely accepted to be superior in terms of their
ability to destroy or incapacitate harmful pathogens. Certain strains of unsafe bacteria and
other nasties are sometimes immune to sanitizers. In these circumstances it is of paramount
importance that a disinfectant be used instead. Therefore, if a situation arises where there is a
choice between using either a disinfectant or a sanitizer, it will probably be most prudent to
opt for the disinfecting product.
It will often be found that sanitizers are faster acting at killing pathogens than disinfectants.
Typically, sanitizers will work sufficiently well in less than a minute, while disinfectants can
require longer, usually several minutes.
As we can see, there are subtle but important differences between sanitizing and disinfecting.
It is crucial that cleaning professionals understand the difference,
and the appropriate occasions on which to utilise each type of product.