Serving the Maryland, Washington D.C. & N. Virginia Areas

Serving the Maryland, Washington & Virginia Areas

Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting: Knowing the Difference

The three distinct forms of eradicating contaminants from a space are cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.

Cleanliness is extremely important in all kinds of environments. Whether it’s a busy food prep kitchen, a corporate office, a healthcare facility, or anything in between. Cleanliness is a big part of what keeps any facility running smoothly. Also what keeps its employees safe from health risks or the spread of disease. However, there is a great deal of nuance within what we tend to think of as “cleanliness,” especially when it comes to the environment in question. The three distinct forms of eradicating contaminants from a space are cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.


Cleaning is the most casual and commonplace of the three words, and it reflects those qualities in its definition. The word Cleaning refers to the removal of visible contaminants such as dirt, dust, liquids, or debris from materials used in the space. (i.e. tiny pieces of food or shreds of paper).

Cleaning a space refers more to the visual aspect of contaminant removal rather than the actual eradication of germs and bacteria. This is why you can say “I cleaned my room” when all you did was put away laundry; the action had nothing to do with any sort of microbial removal and everything to do with tidying the space.


Sanitizing is the process of removing harmful germs from a surface. While cleaning can refer to more basic upkeep. Sanitizing is considered the next step in actually eradicating bacteria and pathogens from a space.

Within a home or office space, commonly touched items such as countertops, appliance handles, light switches, and doorknobs should be regularly sanitized. This will help prevent the spread of invisible contaminants. Additionally, food preparation areas need to be regularly sanitized throughout a work period. Especially in cases where raw meat, fish, or poultry are being handled—in order to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.


Disinfecting is closer in intent to sanitizing than it is to cleaning, but goes even farther than sanitization. Sanitization is typically used as a precaution to the spread of potential disease; disinfection is the solution to prevent the further spread of disease that is already present. While sanitization merely reduces the present quantity of viruses, bacteria, and fungi, disinfection eradicates them.

The disinfection process often requires the use of chemicals or germicidal ultraviolet light technology in order to truly destroy pathogens. Environments that are especially high-risk for the presence of disease, such as doctor’s offices and hospitals, are required to disinfect surfaces and instruments regularly.

Should I clean, sanitize, or disinfect my space?

Whether you work in an office, a food handling environment, a healthcare facility, or anywhere with multiple employees and/or products with bacteria-carrying potential, chances are you’ve already been informed on the cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting process for your workplace (which more than likely involves a combination of all three at different frequencies). As far as the cleanliness of your home goes, a combination of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting is also the way to go, typically in descending order of frequency. When keeping an environment safe and free from disease, cleanliness should always be a priority, from the visible speck of dirt to the tiniest microbe.

Contact RJC Commercial Janitorial and Cleanroom Solutions at 800-582-2105 to discuss what your future  janitorial services looks like.


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