Within the cleaning industry, there is much misunderstanding about the differences between disinfecting and sanitizing an area. Both techniques are used for surface cleaning and bacteria protection in different settings. Despite the bacterial focus of both disinfectant and sanitizer chemicals, there is a difference between them that everyone should understand.
Chemicals referred to as disinfectants completely destroy all pathogens and disease-causing bacteria. Sanitizers are chemicals that reduce the microorganism count to a safe level. Sanitizers can kill bacteria faster than disinfectants. However, disinfectants are more effective at killing pathogenic bacteria than sanitizers. Commercial cleaning services know the difference between these two chemicals and select the type based on the area being cleaned.
Legally, a disinfectant must achieve a 99.999 percent reduction in the level of pathogenic bacteria in between just over five and less than ten minutes. Disinfectants are used in environments like medical facilities. A sanitizer is not required to eliminate all organisms in order to be called effective. For example, it will not kill fungi or viruses. Sanitizers are used in food service facilities and in this environment, they must kill all infectious organisms in 30 seconds and achieve a 99.999 percent reduction in bacteria count.
The differences between the two chemicals may seem minor but examining it closer provides a better understanding. Take an area featuring one million bacteria within each square inch. By killing only 99.999 percent of bacteria, a sanitizer would leave behind 5,000 bacteria per square foot. These reproduce every 15 minutes by splitting in two. Therefore, within five hours, 5,000 bacteria per square foot turns into one million bacteria per square foot. If a disinfectant was used, almost no bacteria would remain.
For a general cleaning designed to remove soil, all-purpose cleaning products are more appropriate than sanitizers or disinfectants. Cleaning is viewed as the initial step before sanitizing or disinfecting take place. It removes organic deposits from mold spores, skin cells, food residues, greases, proteins, and oils. These deposits provide an environment for bacteria to reside and serve as food for bacteria. They can also prevent a disinfectant or sanitizer from coming in contact with spores, viruses, or bacteria.
Cleaners are not registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and cannot include anti-microbial or germ-killing features on their labels. A lightly soiled surface can be simultaneously cleaned and disinfected. However, an area that is more heavily soiled should be cleaned so the disinfectant can contact the surface.