Sanitize Disinfect? What is the difference

Know the difference between sanitizing disinfecting and cleaning

 Amy Braden

Amy Braden, a Novant Health infection preventionist based in Winston-Salem, focuses on ways to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. “The thing everyone can do to protect themselves the most is hand hygiene,” she said. “Wearing a mask and keeping social distance are up there in importance when it comes to Covid-19, but we still have a whole lot to learn.”

When it comes to these three terms, it’s not just semantics. They’re each distinct methods of removing germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects. Braden explains it like this:

  • Cleaning is the physical process of removing dirt, germs, viruses and bacteria, typically using soap and water. While it doesn’t necessarily kill germs, by removing them from surfaces and objects – including hands – you lower the risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting uses chemicals to kill germs. While it doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, it kills germs and can lower the risk of spreading infection.
  • Sanitizing is removing and lowering numbers of germs to a safe level, as judged by public health standards.
  • For most of us, sanitizing, which is more about reducing the number of germs, rather than killing all of them, is the sweet spot. “We don’t need perfectly disinfected houses,” said Braden. “We just need to remove the bulk of germs so that when we’re going about our daily lives, we don’t have as many risk factors for getting communicable infections.”For routine household needs, using a disinfectant is most important for bathrooms; kitchens where raw meat is handled, prepped or cooked; and places of frequent contamination, such as doorknobs and keys, Braden said. When a member of the household is sick, using a disinfectant is useful for all surfaces an individual may have contaminated with their germs.When talking with the public about preventing infection, Braden recommends a few things.

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It is good to sanitize disinfect and cleaning walls, glass, door knobs, countertops, toilets and other hard surfaces. Use the three percent solution undiluted in a spray bottle and spray it on the surface to be cleaned. Allow it to stand for several minutes then wipe. Some of the surfaces that you can clean frequently with hydrogen peroxide are appliances, countertops, cutting boards, bathtubs, mirrors, toilets and windows.

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