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Cleaning Vs. Disinfecting: Is There a Difference?

With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, we cannot help to still be worried about germs, bacteria, and the spread of viruses. That is why we do everything to clean and disinfect our gadgets, surfaces, and almost everything in our home.

Karen Cruz
Karen Cruz

With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, we cannot help to still be worried about germs, bacteria, and the spread of viruses. That is why we do everything to clean and disinfect our gadgets, surfaces, and almost everything in our home. Yes, you read that right-- clean and disinfect. Is there really a difference between cleaning and disinfecting? The answer is a big YES.

The information that we get online can be a little overwhelming. So, to make it easy for you to understand, we created this guide so you can safely clean and disinfect your living space.

Are cleaning and disinfecting the same thing?

If you think all cleaning jobs are made equal, you are wrong. Yes, some methods might seem similar, but there is a huge difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning means organizing and wiping down surfaces such as countertops and tables so they will look neat. Most of the time, we clean a surface using soap and water or other cleaning solutions before we disinfect it. When cleaning, we remove dirt and particles, we remove spots, smudges, and stains from surfaces. When disinfecting, we kill bacteria and viruses.

After cleaning, it is important to follow it up with a disinfectant to kill germs, bacteria, and viruses that cleaning alone may not able to accomplish. Disinfecting aims to lessen the amount of contamination present on a surface. Again, disinfecting kills germs on a surface.

Here’s a piece of bonus information: The difference between disinfecting and sanitizing.

Now that you understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting, let us now determine what sanitizing is. Product manufacturers and companies such as the EPA utilize the word "sanitizing" to talk about a solution that lessens the number of bacteria on a surface. The word "disinfecting" is used to refer to chemical products that are made to kill virtually everything on a surface.

What disinfectant products to use to safely clean surfaces?

A lot of products can be used to clean surfaces. You can opt for warm, soapy water, essential oil solution sprays, and vinegar-water solution. But take note that these products are not yet scientifically proven to be effective for disinfecting a surface from COVID-19, norovirus, and influenza. Here are the common active ingredients you should check when looking for disinfectants. These are found in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended disinfectant cleaning products that can eliminate bacteria and viruses.

  • Ethanol alcohol (60%-90%)
  • Isopropyl alcohol (60%-90%)
  • Sodium hypochlorite
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Quaternary Ammonium

Do disinfectant products expire?

YES. A lot of ingredients found in disinfectant products expire. They also degrade over time when they are not stored well. When buying a disinfectant product, make sure to check the expiration date to see if the ingredients have not expired yet. Then, read the label to know how you can properly store products in your home. Usually, these products are recommended to be stored with the optimal room temperature and away from sunlight.

What are the top areas of the home to focus on when disinfecting?

Regularly cleaning and disinfecting your home can keep you and your family protected from the novel coronavirus and other viruses. Top areas such as doorknobs, handrails, remote controls, keyboards, back of chairs, light switches, and gadgets that you come into contact with many times a day should be disinfected.

Did I mention already that it is IMPORTANT to clean first before you disinfect?

Always, always clean or remove any visible soils first before disinfecting so the loose soils will be removed from the surface or object before you follow it up with a disinfectant. As I mentioned above, disinfecting kills germs, but if a surface is not cleaned first, bacteria and viruses can hide under soils, and disinfecting will not be that effective.

Warning: Mixing cleaning products is dangerous!

Keep in mind that cleaning product ingredients should not be mixed. If it is recommended by the CDC or the manufacturer, it is fine, but if not, never mix them. Here is a list of cleaning products that can cause harmful reactions or toxic gases when mixed.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide and Vinegar
  • Bleach and Vinegar
  • Bleach and Toilet Bowl Cleaner
  • Bleach and Ammonia
  • Bleach and Rubbing Alcohol

Disinfecting our homes and things properly will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. I hope you learned a lot from us! We want you and your loved ones to always be safe from viruses.