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What is the Difference Between Cleaning and Sanitizing?

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Cleaning and Sanitizing are sometimes mistaken to be the same. This fact is not far-fetched, because, on many occasions, the two words get used interchangeably. What is the difference between cleaning and sanitizing?

In this article, we will help you to understand the difference between the two activities.  We have also included a guide on how you can perform each activity easily.

Cleaning Vs Sanitizing

The words cleaning and sanitizing are mostly mistaken to be similar. However, you can clean an environment without sanitizing it, but you can’t properly sanitize an environment without cleaning it up.

Here is a better definition of both activities;

– Cleaning

Cleaning can be defined as a process whereby dirt is removed from a surface. It removes dirt such as dust remains, offensive odor, stains, and unwanted clutter or particles from a surface.

Cleaning also helps in making the surface look pleasant and shiny. It restores the brightness of an object by removing the dirt particles.

Cleaning sometimes is a demanding task compared to Sanitizing.  It demands a lot of energy and activities such as; washing, rinsing, drying, and arranging if necessary.

– Sanitizing

Sanitizing is the process of disinfecting a surface to a safe level. It is also a way of removing germs and other diseases causing viruses. Sanitizing helps to remove viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms to a safe level and not totally.

Unlike Cleaning, Sanitizing is not demanding. It is always simple and easy to carry out. Most of the time,  it has to do with applying the sanitizer and leaving the surface to dry.

When Should You Do Both Cleaning and Sanitizing?

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In some situations, both cleaning and sanitizing get done simultaneously. Always clean first and then sanitize. This procedure helps to enhance the effectiveness of the sanitizing.

Microorganisms tend to build up even on a clean surface. Therefore, it is essential that sanitizing is carried out once in a while after cleaning.

Kitchen utensils, plates, and other surfaces where food particles have been left for a while need to be cleaned and sanitized. Surfaces with constant traffic should be cleaned and sanitized too.

This process helps to remove dirt particles and germs that might have dropped in the course of the movement.

Bathrooms and toilets must always be cleaned and sanitized regularly. These places have a higher tendency to retain germs and microorganisms more than any other place.

Cleaning and Sanitizing should be concentrated in those places more than any other place in the house.

Items without contact with food particles do not need to be sanitized. Items such as chairs, tables, doors, windows, and shelves can get cleaned without sanitizing. However, they can be sanitized to eradicate microorganisms that might have accidentally dropped on the surface.

What is Sterilizing?

Sterilizing is not the same as sanitizing. While sanitizing removes germs to a safe level, sterilizing eradicate germs and other microorganisms.

Sterilizing helps to kill all forms of diseases causing viruses, germs, bacteria, and any unwanted organisms on the surface.

Sterilizing is usually used in hospitals and some other health-related centers. This process is not used in the house or the kitchen.

Although both sterilizers and sanitizers contain hydrogen peroxide in the chemical compositions. The concentration of the chemical substance in sterilizers is always higher than that in sanitizers.

How to Clean a Surface and Appropriate Cleaning Agents

Cleaning can be demanding. It includes a lot of processes, depending on what is to be cleaned. Most of those processes do not apply to all cases.

For example, when cleaning dishes, you may only need to wash, rinse, and dry as the case may be. The following are some of the standard processes in cleaning:

  • Dusting

This task is a way of removing dust particles. It can use a broom, mopping sticks end, or cloth with fiber materials. Sometimes, it is used to remove cobwebs and other hanging dirt.

  • Vacuuming

In a situation where dust scatters on the floor, the best approach to removing them is vacuuming. This process can also be used in cleaning chairs, rugs, furniture, and carpets.

  • Scraping

Scraping is usually used when there is a need to remove stubborn stains on a solid surface. It also helps to remove filth, long time food particles, and grease.

  • Mopping

Mopping helps clean the floor. Tiled floors need to be mopped, especially when the traffic is much, with a lot of dirt on the surface. It requires the use of a mopping stick, water, and detergent.

  • Rinsing

This task removes any residue after washing with detergents. It is usually done with running water. Warm or partially hot water is advisable as it will enhance the effectiveness of the detergent.

Examples of Cleaning agents are Abrasive cleaner, acidic cleaner, detergents, and solvents.

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How to Sanitize and Appropriate Sanitizing Agents

On some occasions, sanitizing can be done by applying the chemical sanitizer to the surface and then leaving it to dry. However, there are other methods of sanitizing, which is as follows:

  • Heating

This process is commonly used in the food industry to reduce bacteria significantly. Most microorganisms cannot survive the heat. Therefore, heating is a good way of dealing with them.

  • Steaming

Steaming is another way of sanitizing. Exposing surface to steam can go a long way in killing germs on the surface. Viruses and germs cannot survive under high temperatures.

  • Chemical Sanitizers

Chemical sanitizers are always the best to use when it comes to sanitizing the body. It is skin-friendly compared to heating and steaming. Most of the time, those chemicals contain iodine, bromine, and chlorine.

Examples of sanitizing agents are Chlorine, Iodine, Bromide, and Ammonium quats. Likewise, steam engines and heat-generating objects can also sanitize.


Cleaning as well as sanitizing are both needed for a healthy lifestyle. Both help to avoid the spread of diseases, prevent food poisoning, disallow pest infestation, and avoid allergic reactions.

Nevertheless, we have been able to clarify what is the difference between cleaning and sanitizing despite their seeming closeness.

The difference between sterilizing and sanitizing has also been established as the words are often used interchangeably too.