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Cleaning vs. Disinfecting: What You Need to Know

Cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing: all common terms used to refer to the process of “making things less dirty.” Here’s exactly what each means.

What is cleaning?

‘Cleaning’ refers to the removal of dirt, dust and grime. Cleaning a house involves tools like soap, water and sponges or mops. In the process of cleaning, invisible germs may be picked up or transferred between surfaces.

What does it mean to disinfect?

‘Disinfecting’ refers to the killing of germs (not just removal). This is often done with a chemical solution, targeted at common household bacteria.

What’s the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting?

Another term that often gets thrown around in discussions of cleaning is ‘sanitizing,’ which refers to the process of lowering the amount of harmful germs on a particular surface to safe levels. Sanitizing is accomplished through disinfecting, and the two terms are often interchangeable.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Cleaning often comes before disinfecting. If a surface contains visible dirt or trash, ‘cleaning’ would refer to the removal of this via “picking up the trash” or “wiping away the dirt.” Once the surface is visibly clean, disinfecting comes next via spraying or wiping down a surface with a disinfecting solution. Commonly, at-home disinfectants are prepared with bleach and water (a safe ratio is one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water).

Why should you clean, disinfect and sanitize (+ how often should you do them)?

Cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing are critical parts of keeping a safe and healthy home and recommended by the CDC in the prevention of spreading disease. Daily disinfecting is also recommended – especially in busy households and in spaces where food is prepared.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.