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  • Claudette Robb Ross

Disinfecting vs Sanitizing

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

As more offices open, you are going to hear people talking about keeping their offices clean. In these conversations, they are going to use the words “cleaning,” “sanitizing,” and “disinfecting” interchangeably.  These words have three specific meanings, and they are not interchangeable.

You can have a surface that is cleaned but not sanitized.  You can be sanitized without being disinfected, but not the other way around, and you can be disinfected without being clean.

What does it mean to be clean?

Cleaning is the process of removing dirt, dust, and clutter.  When you organize a space, then wipe it down and come through with a rag and soapy water, you are cleaning, but the surface still has bacteria and germs.  Soap can reduce the number somewhat, but there is still a significant risk of spreading infection or illness if you are just cleaning.

What does it mean to sanitize?

Sanitizing means you are using a chemical that is known to reduce the number of bacteria, germs, fungi, or viruses.  By reducing the number, you are significantly decreasing the chances that someone is going to get sick by touching those surfaces.  For someone to get sick, they need to be exposed to a certain number of germs.  This is called the dose of exposure.  By sanitizing an area, you lower the number of germs reducing the risk of the level of exposure necessary to get sick.

What does disinfecting mean?

Disinfecting takes things to another level.  When you use disinfecting chemicals and leave them on a surface for a while, they will kill almost everything on the surface.  Barely anything will survive being doused in disinfectant for 10 minutes.

Well, if disinfecting is so much better, why do we sanitize?

In most cases, sanitization is sufficient.  To stop the spread of disease, we have to reduce the number of contaminants to a point where people are not exposed to dangerous levels of the germs or viruses.  Disinfecting requires more potent chemicals to be used for a much longer time.

When would you disinfect as opposed to sanitize?

Disinfecting is done when there is an absolute reason to do it.  If your office had widespread infections, you would want to have your office disinfected.  In a home, if you have a person who is ill or is at a high risk of becoming ill due to a compromised immune system, you are going to want to make your place as safe as possible through disinfection.

On a day to day basis, exposing your employees to the harsh chemicals used in disinfection can have its own drawbacks.  Sanitization is not merely a compromise to disinfecting, it is quite sufficient in keeping your office safe for your employees.  Remember, however, that whether you sanitize or disinfect, the moment people come in and start to touch surfaces, the risk of spreading illnesses increases.  In between sanitizations, please maintain good practices such as providing hand sanitizer, keeping the bathrooms stocked with liquid soap and paper towels, and maintaining social distancing guidelines.

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