Disinfecting, Cleaning or Sanitizing? -- Definitions and Distinctions

With all the information going around, and multiple tips that get thrown about, it can get pretty confusing figuring out the steps we need to take to make sure we stay clean, safe, and healthy. In the midst of a pandemic, we thought it helpful to shed some light on the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, and what is applicable and necessary in different circumstances.

  • Cleaning physically removes germs by way of combining water, a cleaning product, applying both to a soiled surface, and scrubbing it away. Cleaning products serve to weaken the bond between dirt and the surface it covers, and with the aid of water, washes them down the drain in order to lower their numbers as well as their risk of spreading infection.
  • Sanitizers and disinfecting products on the other hand, kill germs: the category that bacteria, molds, viruses, and fungi fall under. These chemicals are sometimes also referred to as antimicrobial pesticides, whereby disinfectants have a higher kill rate of germs than sanitizers do. Use of these products does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces to a safe level, but they do kill germs so that the risk of spreading an infection is lowered. The best practice would be to use a cleaning product first, then to disinfect or sanitize the soiled area only when necessary.

The rule of thumb is to clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often. In the home, these would normally include desks, kitchen countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, faucet handles, phones, and toys. It’s also advisable to immediately clean surfaces that are visibly soiled, especially if these are food stains, pet excrement, or any substrate that could potentially  allow the proliferation of germs, that a child could accidentally swallow. If there isn’t any visible dirt, you can proceed with disinfecting the non-porous hard surface, paying close attention to the advised contact time of the product, say between 3-30 minutes, depending on the strength of the disinfectant.

It is relevant to take note that it’s also healthy for people with strong and uncompromised immune systems to expose their microbiome to a reasonable amount of bacterial flora, in order to strengthen it, as not all microbes cause disease. Viruses, fungi, and bacteria, all play a role in the seamless running of our body’s ecosystem. We get them from exposure to nature, from what we eat, and from our daily environment. Do you know that there are 10 times as much microbial cells in our body as there are human cells? Weighed all together, the microbes in our body reach up to 3 pounds, almost equal to the weight of a standard human brain!

Some roles they play in helping to maintain our overall health include:

  • Chemically breaking down the fibrous meat, and leafy vegetables that we consume to aid in better digestion. After the mastication process where the food we eat is physically broken down into smaller pieces, microbes lining our gut performs the lion’s share of further chemical processing in order to extract the valuable nutrients and minerals that our body needs to function optimally.
  • Supporting the strength of our immune system and helping to control inflammation
  • Working with our body to make vitamins from the food we eat

Teaching our body to learn the difference between what is harmful and what is not, is an essential step in strengthening our immune system. How do we do this? By early exposure to germs. We get allergies when our body interprets normally harmless things, like dust, as a threat to our body. In fact, there is some research emerging that suggests bacteria plays a role in weight maintenance and asthma protection.

When we stay in a sterile vacuum, this not only leaves you more vulnerable to certain microbes, but renders one ill-equipped to handle even every day, weak germs, potentially leading to more illnesses that could have been managed more easily, with a stronger immune system.  We’ll talk about what you can do to strengthen your immune system today, and some simple practices you can do to help build immunity. Authors recommendation, for individuals with uncompromised immune systems, is for one to develop a healthy tolerance for good germs, by spending time in nature, and simply breathing in the air and flora they produce. It’ll do wonders for one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.







[i](Prevention, 2018)



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