What’s the difference?
Cleaning removes germs and dirt from surfaces by lifting and wiping them away. Disinfecting kills germs, but doesn’t necessarily clean surfaces.
So, do I need to disinfect? It may make sense to periodically disinfect your surfaces, especially when you have a sick person in your household or you're handling raw meat, but many times, simply cleaning is enough.
- Properly cleaning and wiping down your surfaces will remove germs without harsh disinfecting chemicals.
- To be effective at killing viruses and bacteria, disinfecting products need to stay on surfaces for anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes. A simple wipe will not kill most germs. Always check the directions on the label.
Cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing are all words that have become a part of our everyday lives. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are more aware than ever of germs in our homes and in public. We have been inundated with messaging about sanitizing our hands and disinfecting our surfaces to stay healthy. Given this, staying free of germs is a logical goal, but should we always be disinfecting our surfaces?
Let’s start by defining each term:
From the CDC: “Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.”
Cleaning is what we do when we wipe down our surfaces with anything from water to dish soap to a multi-surface cleaner. We remove germs by simply lifting them from the surface and wiping them away.
From the CDC: “Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.”
Disinfecting uses chemicals to kill germs, but it doesn’t actually clean your surfaces. Many disinfecting products will state in the instructions that you should first clean your surfaces before disinfecting. They also suggest that you may have to leave the solution on your surface for up to 4 minutes for the disinfecting properties to actually work. A quick wipe will not kill most germs.
So…when do we need to disinfect?
The CDC suggests that cleaning alone is sufficient to reduce the number of germs on your surfaces and decrease your risk of infection from germs. They state that “disinfection can kill any germs that remain on surfaces after cleaning. But for everyday housework, you probably don’t need to disinfect unless someone in your home is sick or if someone sick has recently visited.”
Additionally, the USDA recommends a "one-two punch" approach when handling products that can spread food-borne illnesses, like raw chicken. They recommend cleaning your surfaces first to remove bacteria, then sanitizing to kill anything that may be left behind.
So, for for everyday cleaning, keep it simple with safe ingredients that lift dirt, grease and grime without the harsh chemicals, and save the disinfectants for periodic use.
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