The Differences Between Clean, Sanitize, Disinfect And Sterilize

Please note that the following comments are a very basic approach to the subject and many may disagree with my terms and definitions. This conversation is welcome and encouraged.

  1. “Cleaning” in its most basic terms is to remove all visible soils.
  2. “Sanitize” has to do with using a “sanitizer” or “disinfectant” to kill up to a certain percentage of microorganisms with the goal of 99.999 percent kill rate on a surface that has usually been “cleaned” prior to applying the product.
  3. “Disinfect” has to do with using an EPA registered disinfectant on a “clean” surface for the prescribed dwell time (5 or possibly 10 minutes) with the goal of 99.9999999 percent kill rate.
  4. “Sterilize” has to do with using an autoclave or other method with the goal of 100 percent kill rate of any microorganisms, including spores. This process is not practical is cleaning an office for obvious reasons and is limited to surgeon and dental tools that use extreme heat for total destruction of any pathogens.
  5. “Microorganism” is any virus, bacterium, mold or other substance that is not visible to the naked eye. Also, can be called germs or pathogens.
  6. “Pathogen” is a microorganism that can infect a person resulting in illness or even death if not treated.
  7. “Clean surface prior to disinfecting” has to do with the reality that most sanitizers and disinfectants are not effective if there is a “soil load” (think dirt, food, grease) that must be removed before the product can be applied. Failure to clean the surface first oftentimes reduces the efficacy of the product.

Check with your distributor and make sure that you are using the correct terms to achieve the desired results.