Cleaning Vs Sanitisation Vs Disinfection: What’s the difference?

Emerging technologies to combat coronavirus
July 6, 2020
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Cleaning’, ‘Sanitisation’, ‘Disinfection’ are three terms used quite frequently in our lives as an aftermath. Have you been using these terms interchangeably? Trust me, you are not alone. These words, when deciphered individually, vary in meanings altogether. To a certain extent they can be understood as three different levels of hygiene maintenance. Each level separated by the severity of their end results. Living in times where so much emphasis is being laid on how personal hygiene can be a guardian angel for humanity, we must know the distinction among the three. 

The CDC defines ‘cleaning’ as a daily & simple practice of removing visible dust, dirt, debris, garbage, etc from one’s surroundings. 

  • Soap 
  • Detergent 
  • Dusters 

‘Sanitisation’, as defined by the CDC, is the process of reducing the amount of germs on surfaces to a standard level of safety, by using chemicals, as judged by the PHS (Public Health Standards). A sanitiser must reduce germs by at least 99.9% to be considered effective according to the EPA. 

‘Disinfection’, however, is the more severe process of eradicating the germs from existence which, consequently, makes it the most effective one too. 

  • Bleach
  • Alcohol
  • Chlorine 

As compared to a sanitiser, a disinfectant must kill 99.9999% of the germs according to CDC standards. To put it more simply, if we consider 1 million bacteria/virus to exist on a particular surface, a disinfectant must kill 100% of them (with absolutely zero remaining), whereas a sanitiser would only reduce the number to 1,000. 

All the three processes differ on the basis of their severity. While sanitisation is done to ensure that the germ count stays as low as possible, disinfection gets rid of the virus/germs once and for all. In comparison, the former can be referred to as a more ‘gentle process’ than the latter. A sanitiser can simply be a mixture of water and bleach, depending on the concentration level of the bleach in the solution. If the bleach is not very diluted, it can also be used as a disinfectant. Disinfection is really meant for more serious messes like in hospitals and contamination zones. It is used in more hazardous circumstances. On the other hand, sanitisation is done more regularly to keep away various types of germs and potent bacteria. 


Did you know? Every disease has a particular number of germs one needs to contract to fall sick. This is known as the “dose of exposure”. Sanitisation lowers the total number of germs on surfaces & objects hence, helping to reduce the risk of infection. The most relatable example would be a hand sanitiser. An interesting fact about the very commonly used hand-sanitisers is that the prime active ingredient in them is alcohol, which technically is a surface disinfectant. Hence, the term “sanitiser” is a misnomer and a little misleading. 

There also exists a difference in the time taken by both processes to start being efficacious. While a sanitiser can work almost instantly, a disinfectant could take upto 10 mins to become effective. This makes it all the more important to distinctively follow the instructions mentioned on the product label ensuring maximum efficiency. 

Sanitisation is usually done on the lesser touched surfaces like cooking utensils or children’s toys or countertops, while disinfection is done in high-touch areas like doorknobs, handrails, washrooms, light switches & faucets. It is advisable to sanitise one’s surroundings at least once every 4-5 hours. Disinfection can be done once a day. The frequency should increase during the flu season, a virus outbreak or in case of bodily fluids on a surface. 

Cleaning is already part of our everyday lives. This is the first step in the process of cleaning. Sanitisation has now become a habit instead of a compulsion. “According to IANS C-VOTER Gallup International Association Corona Tracker survey conducted recently, a mammoth 87.2% of Indians have become vigilant towards their personal hygiene during the Covid lockdown.” Disinfection can be termed as the final step of the process of preventing the spread of toxic microorganisms. This is a need of the hour. It is effective against the likes of norovirus, rhinovirus, coronavirus & influenza. The CDC advises on using disinfectants with over 60% alcohol content. 

To conclude, we can compare the three terms as ‘three tiers’ of the process of getting rid of potent bacteria, germs, viruses. Even though the three terms vary in meaning by a considerable distance, they have a common objective to their varying properties i.e to keep us and our surroundings healthy. 

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