Disinfectants vs. Sanitizers

Many are familiar with the terms disinfectant, sanitizer, and sterilizer but what many are not familiar with is the factual difference between the three.  When you are cleaning it is best to know the meanings so you can pick the best agent for the job.

Sanitization is the reduction of microorganisms but not completely killing all the cells.  An example of sanitization is washing your hands with soap.  On the totem pole of cleanliness sanitizing is at the bottom, disinfection is in the middle and sterilization is at the very top because it is the complete removal of harmful agents.

Disinfection on the other hand means reducing the number of viable microorganisms present in a sample.  It is different from sanitization, though people often think they are the same.  Disinfection is the reduction of pathogenic cells from an object so that it does not infect other surfaces or materials.  Disinfectants kill microbes but do not remove 100% of all microorganisms.  It is less effective than sterilization.

Sterilization is the complete destruction or removal of all cells; destruction such as autoclaving and dry heat, and removal such as filtration.  A surface or object is either sterile or it is not; there are no gradations in sterility.  Sterilizers remove and kill all forms of microbial life including transmissible agents such as fungi, bacteria and viruses etc.

Disinfectants are usually toxic to humans or animals because the way in which they work is to destroy the cell wall of microbes or interfere with the metabolism.  For this reason the EPA states that there are technically no “green” disinfectants.  However there are some alternatives.  Vinegar is the most common mild disinfectant that is completely green, with no harmful effects to those who use it or produce it.  It contains 5% acetic acid which does have antimicrobial properties; when used as a general cleaner it is highly effective and can also kill mold.  Michael Mullen references numerous studies to indicate that a straight 5% solution of vinegar (the kind you purchase at the supermarket) kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of germs (viruses).  As far as food safety, although proven to kill germs, it is unknown how many germs this solution kills and how many it leaves behind.

If you are still unsure what the best action for the best job is, leave your cleaning worries to Envision Commercial Cleaning.  We are a certified green clean team that is educated in the products we use so we will be able to best determine the right choice for the job.  Call to set up your free quote today!


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disinfectant
  2. http://www.mansfield.ohio-state.edu/~sabedon/black12.htm
  3. http://www.rodale.com/natural-disinfectant

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