Here at For the Love of Clean and our Facebook group, Laundry Love and Science, we want to make sure that we are all on the same page. We love to clean, disinfect, and sanitize, as appropriate. However, each approach has a specific place in our household. Each of us have our own struggles to keep our homes clean. We do not think that every home should be disinfected or sanitized on a regular basis. The presentation of germs and bacteria to our immune systems are (for most people) something that keeps us healthy!
When we speak about cleaning something, on this page, we will talk only about making something free of dirt, marks, or mess by washing, wiping, brushing, or scrubbing. Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs. By removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection. It also may remove their food source, thus making it difficult for them to grow and reproduce. An item can be cleaned, but that does necessarily mean that is has been disinfected or sanitized.
When we speak about disinfecting on this page, we speak specifically about killing germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by killing germs on surfaces or objects, usually with chemicals (though extreme heat and pressure or UV light can also disinfect). This process does NOT necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection. Please note: a surface can disinfected with properly diluted sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) and still not be cleaned (i.e. the grit and grime would remain). When a product label says the item disinfects in the United States, it means that the product kills 99.9% of a subset of bacteria and viruses tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when it is diluted and applied for the recommended time on the label.
When we speak about sanitizing on this page, we mean to make something clean and hygienic. Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process involves using disinfecting agents at lower concentrations or for shorter lengths of time and/or cleaning surfaces or objects to remove germs. When a product label says the item disinfects in the United States, it means that the product kills 99.0% of a subset of bacteria and viruses tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when it is diluted and applied for the recommended time on the label.
Sterilizing, which will never really happen outside of a laboratory is to make an item completely free from bacteria or other living organisms.
We feel the need to denote that we are not in the business of recommending that everyone needs to disinfect, sanitize, or sterilize on a regular basis. Most bacteria are harmless; some are very helpful (probiotics, anyone?). When we talk about the need to kill germs, in general, we are talking about bacteria or viruses that may cause illness or may eventually cause damage to our homes if left untreated. It is important to recognize that the human body actually has more bacterial cells in and on it than we have human cells. They are very important to human health, as is exposure to bacteria and fungi in the environment. We do not equate cleanliness with sterility. In other words, NO, we do not want everyone to attempt to sterilize his or her home, but we are not in the business of making the decision of whether disinfecting or sanitizing is necessary!
Should you need to sanitize laundry, for instance to kill off infectious bacteria or viruses at the instruction of your physician, the guidelines can be found on our “How to Sanitize Your Laundry” guidelines. Should you need to sanitize hard surfaces, see our page on “How to Sanitize Hard Surfaces.”
A Quick Last Note to Help Us All Remember
Cleaning removes the crud.
Sanitizing makes it safe.
Disinfecting makes all germs dead.
By Amanda Perez