Home Cleaning 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. When cleaning your house make sure you follow a process to ensure your home is cleaned and disinfected.

Note: This is intended for home use. HHS' housekeeping teams follow a thorough and detailed process to ensure facilities are properly cleaned and disinfected.

Cleaning vs. Disinfecting


Cleaning is the action of removing dust, debris, stains, or marks from the surface with a cleaning tool, such as a cloth or detergent. This practice does not kill the germs—it just transfers the germs from the surface to the cleaning cloth. For example, as you wipe down your countertops with a dampened cleaning cloth, you are removing the visible debris and some of the microorganisms from the countertop surface. You’ll remove some germs and bacteria, but you won't remove them all. Because some of the bacteria are transferred to your cloth, if you use the same cloth to wipe down another surface, you can cross-contaminate 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 home-cleaning 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 kill the germs with disinfectant.

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