What’s the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitising?

Not all cleans are created equal. When you are cleaning a home or workplace, there are different products you can use and different standards of cleaning you can carry out. Although all cleaning aims to create a better, fresher environment, different levels of rigor will also eradicate germs and minimise the spread of illness. What may be appropriate for an office desk will not be the same as for a dentist’s office or a restaurant, for example. Let’s take a look at some of the different kinds of cleaning and where they would be used appropriately.  


Definition: the removal of visible dirt, debris, microorganisms and other impurities from surfaces and objects. Cleaning won’t necessarily eradicate germs but it will lower their numbers and remove dirt and other contaminated matter.

Cleaning is the first stage of any process to decontaminate an area. Even if you are going to go on to disinfect a surface, you would need to clean it first to remove dirt, dust and debris, and to ensure the more rigorous methods later are as effective as possible.

Cleaning will be carried out using soap and water, or a universal detergent and water. Areas which will have a low risk for transferring germs will be suited to cleaning alone. For example, floors, windows and lighting fixtures would likely only require cleaning.


Definition: the reduction of bacteria on a surface or object to safe levels which are set by public health standards. This will decrease infection risk but may not kill all viruses.

Sanitising is a step further than simple cleaning, using cleaning chemicals which reduce a greater amount of bacteria and germs. Look out for chemicals which meet BS EN standards and always follow the instructions on the bottle to ensure you achieve optimal sanitising performance – this may require leaving the chemicals to work for a short amount of time.

Sanitising isn’t as harsh as disinfecting and is often suited to food preparation areas or on objects related to making or eating food. This could include kitchens, restaurant eating areas or office breakout areas.


Definition: the killing and eradication of pathogens, bacteria, viruses, fungi and disease-causing microorganisms on a surface or object.

Disinfecting is a stronger decontamination method than sanitising as it kills germs, rather than just reducing their numbers to a safe level. As disinfectants can kill pathogens, it is this kind of cleaning chemical you should use for frequently used areas with a high potential for germ transferral, or during cold and flu season. Areas you would disinfect includes bathrooms, banisters, door handles or communal desks.

There are three different grades of disinfectant, according to your decontaminating needs: low-level disinfectant, high-level disinfectant and – the strongest – hospital-grade disinfectant. Healthcare settings should use hospital-grade disinfectant, premises like schools or care homes might use high-level, and offices or commercial businesses might use low-level.

Scott & Sons can provide thorough cleaning services for businesses, schools and restaurants in and around the Hertfordshire area. Our highly trained team tailor their approach according to your premises and needs, ensuring you get the level of cleaning most suited to your individual requirements. If you have any enquiries regarding our services, get in touch with our team today – we’re happy to help.

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