Housekeeping Tips

What’s the Difference Between Disinfecting and Cleaning?

Understandably, there is a lot of misconception around the terms cleaning and disinfecting. This confusion can often lead to inefficient and ineffective practices. The difference between cleaning and disinfecting comes down to how the germs are actually removed.

Two-Step Cleaning Process


First, clean the surface. Cleaning is the action of removing dust, debris, stains, or marks from the surface with a cloth or detergent. This practice does not kill the germs, rather it just moves the germs from one item to another. For example, as you wipe down your countertops with a dampened sponge, you are just removing the visible debris and some of the microorganisms from the countertop surface. You’ll remove some germs and bacteria present, but you won't remove them all. What actually happens is that the bacteria is transferred to your sponge, and if you use the same sponge to wipe down another surface, you will be cross-contaminating the next item. When performing a two-step cleaning process, cleaning should always be completed before disinfecting. 


disinfecting a surfaceOnce you’ve cleaned the surface, you’re ready to disinfect it. Disinfecting uses antimicrobial agents to eradicate germs. To ensure you are killing surface germs, you must use an EPA-registered disinfectant and follow the instructions on the product label. Be sure to follow the dwell time—also known as contact time—recommended by the manufacturer in order to effectively remove all bacteria and germs. For example, when using an EPA-registered disinfectant wipe such as Clorox, the instructions state to wipe the surface using enough product to keep the surface wet for four minutes before air drying. To eliminate 99.9% of germs, you must follow product and manufacturer directions. Remember, for best results, you should always use a cleaning product before disinfecting.

One-Step Process for Cleaning & Disinfecting

Some products clean and disinfect with one step such as Clorox Cleaner + Bleach. Those products lift bacteria from surfaces while disinfecting at the same time. When using a cleaning and/or disinfecting product, be sure to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, allow for proper dwell or contact time, apply good friction, and always be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to ensure you're using the product correctly.

It’s important to note that disinfecting is not a substitute for cleaning. You must first remove the dirt and debris on the surface before you disinfect. 

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