Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting: What’s the difference

by | Sep 17, 2021 | Cleaning Service

With Covid-19 and its variants, you probably want to make sure you’re doing everything right to keep your business clean. 

Let’s start with the basics you need to know about disinfecting, cleaning, and sanitizing. 


Disinfecting destroys or inactivates both the bacteria and viruses identified on the product’s label (like influenza and rhinovirus) on hard, nonporous surfaces. 

Golden Line Green Care believes that part of running a successful business is maintaining a clean environment. You can stay on top of your cleaning by using a cleaning checklist or schedule, ensuring that your location is cleaned regularly can help keep your staff and customers healthy. 

In order to decide which method and practices you should take at your location to slow the spread of disease and viruses, we will be looking at the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and sterilizing so that you can best incorporate them into your cleaning regimen. 

Click here to see Health Canada’s recommendations for preventing the spread of Covid-19. 

The Difference Between Cleaning and Sanitizing 

So, what is the main difference between cleaning and sanitizing? The main difference between cleaning and sanitizing is that cleaning is the act of clearing debris and deposits on a surface. Sanitizing on the other hand involves killing bacteria after the surface has already been cleared and wiped off. 

You want to make sure that cleaning happens first regardless of the surface, and the sanitizing follows depending on the area. Items that come into contact with foods and that are often touched should be sanitized, while locations like hallway floors and windows do not need to be regularly sanitized as they are considered surfaces with low risk. 


This means to remove all the visible contaminations on the surface, this includes dirt, spills, food particles, dust, and others. You can remove this by washing, brushing, or wiping the area. Cleaning is more at the surface level and does not eliminate germs but can help reduce their numbers. This is essentially the first step in the cleaning process. 

Common products needed for cleaning: 

  • Soaps
  • Detergents 
  • Vacuums 
  • Dusters
  • Degreasers 
  • Glass Cleaners 


Sanitizing involves the reduction of microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi on a surface after it has been cleaned. The sanitizer used must reduce the number of bacteria to the level that is deemed safe by public health standards.  

Sanitizing is meant to be used as a preventative measure and is an important practice in restaurants, schools, corporate offices, and hospitals. Every surface that comes into food should be sanitized several times a day.

Disinfect vs. Sanitize 

The difference between sanitizing and disinfecting is based on the amount of bacteria each process eliminates. Sanitizing is meant to kill the majority of germs, but antiviral claims cannot be made. Whereas disinfecting is more powerful than sanitizing and can kill nearly 100% of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Disinfecting agents target specific disease-carrying microorganisms like the flu virus, norovirus, and coronavirus. 

Disinfectants will be regularly used in areas with vulnerable populations, like healthcare facilities and daycare centers. 

Sanitizing would be sufficient for food service items such as tabletops and cutting boards.

Bathrooms and fitness centers would need to be disinfected. 



To disinfect means to kill specific viruses and pathogens on a surface using a disinfectant. These disinfectant agents must kill 99.999% of infections bacteria, viruses, and fungi within a 5-10 minute period. Bathrooms should always be disinfected due to pathogens those surfaces can harbour that can lead to the spread of disease. 

Common disinfectants include:

  • Bleach
  • Alcohol
  • Chlorine

All disinfectants that have a drug identification number (DIN) have been approved for sale in Canada. Health Canada has a list of approved products.  

Difference Between Sterilizing and Disinfecting

The terms sterilizing and disinfecting are often used incorrectly interchangeably there are significant differences between the two. Disinfecting eliminates nearly 100% of viruses and bacteria on surfaces while sterilizing will kill all of the viruses, bacteria, fungi, and bacterial spores on an item. 



To sterilize an item means to completely eradicate microbes on its surface, including bacterial spores, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Sterilization is important in facilities like Health Care. 

A few methods can be used to sterilize products:

  • Chemicals
  • Steam
  • Heat 
  • Radiation 

In conclusion, the number of bacteria will decrease as you progress from cleaning to disinfecting, to finally being fully eradicated with sterilizing. Proper training for staff members is essential to ensure a thorough cleaning program.

Golden Line Green Care is here to help you achieve a great cleaning experience. Catering to the GTA and its surroundings, we are confident that we can help you establish a cleaning program that will create a safe environment for your employees and customers. We only provide the best for our clients. Contact us for a quote

Ready to Get Started?

Our professional team is ready to start whenever you are. Just click the button below to begin!