Cleaning vs Disinfecting: What’s the Difference

Proper Sanitation
Are you doing both?

According to a study from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), the pandemic won’t end until 60% – 80% of the human population is immune to the virus, which may take 18- 24 months. With the height of COVID-19, now more than ever, we need to make sure the environment we live in is as clean and safe as can be. As the old saying goes, An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

To protect your family, it is worth it to spend extra time and effort cleaning and disinfecting around the house or workplace. However, cleaning and disinfecting aren’t the same thing. You might be doing the former and completely missing out on the latter. You can do it by yourself, especially with the amount of time in our hands nowadays, or to be safe you can hire a cleaning service to do this for you. We know this may get overwhelming so we’ve broken down everything there is about cleaning and disinfecting.

Cleaning vs. Disinfecting

In a general sense, cleaning is taking out any visible dirt, dust, and impurities. This is the best way to reduce germs that can spread around any surface. Think of it as picking up all the toys your kid used after playtime or gathering all the kitchen tools on the countertop after baking. You’d want your house to look as pristine and organized as can be. 

On the other hand, disinfecting is when you use chemicals to kill germs. This is where you use wipes and sprays to ensure that no bacteria are lying on the surface. It is possible to clean your office without disinfecting it, but you’d want to make sure you get to those surfaces that you’re often in contact with.

Tools to use

Soap and water are the two main things you need when cleaning. Using these tools, plus a special cloth for cleaning, you can already wipe off the dirt from the surface. Some people step it up by dropping essential oils to help the area smell nice. While this simple method can reduce the number of pathogens in the area you’re cleaning, this does not eliminate all of them. 

When disinfecting, you will need solutions to effectively kill germs. This can be in the form of an alcohol (at least 70% alcohol), regular household bleach, or EPA-registered disinfectants. Diluted household bleach solutions may also be used if deemed appropriate for the surface.

Areas to clean or disinfect

Whether to clean or disinfect an area should be entirely up to you. For example, you should not be too concerned about clothes, towels, sheets, or laundry in general. But if you came in close contact with someone who’s ill, it is best that you disinfect these items using bleach. However, as a rule of thumb, you should be disinfecting items that you touch on a daily basis or what CDC calls “high-touch surfaces”. Below are a few examples:

  • Doorknobs
  • Light switch
  • Faucets
  • Remote control
  • Phones
  • Keyboards

Although the time we go out is not as often as it used to be, we still need to go out for pharmacy and grocery runs so be cautious when you’re out and about by keeping a pack of disinfecting wipes handy. Some even go as far as putting gloves on to make sure they don’t touch anything unsanitized. Here are some items that you may overlook when you’re outside:

  • Car door
  • Steering wheel
  • Gear shifts
  • Shopping cart handles
  • ATM keypads

How to safely disinfect

To ensure safety, it is recommended that you follow the CDC’s outline or the directions of use listed on your disinfectants. Remember that these chemicals can be hazardous and might cause more damage if not used properly. Always use a pair of gloves to avoid chemical burns and never touch your eyes. Measuring how much ingredients you put in is also crucial as putting too much of one product can damage the surface. Additionally, mixing chemicals can produce toxins and harmful gases. Below is a list of everyday products that can be harmful when mixed:

  • Bleach and vinegar
  • Bleach and ammonia
  • Bleach and toilet bowl cleaner
  • Bleach and rubbing alcohol
  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar

If you’re still unsure on how to disinfect properly, there are commercial cleaning services that are still business as usual. They can disinfect your office or home and make it squeaky clean without going through the hassle of diluting solutions or going through the CDC outline. This way, you can ensure that no harm is done and unideal negative consequences are avoided when disinfecting your space.

How often should you disinfect

You might wonder, how much is too much when it comes to sanitizing. It is ideal that you disinfect once a day as a baseline precautionary measure, but this still depends on your situation whether you are constantly in contact with people or not. Of course, it’s impossible to deep clean the whole house from top to bottom, so unless you have an ill patient at home, experts suggest that you focus on “high-touch surfaces”. If you know or are living with someone who is experiencing coronavirus symptoms, you will want to disinfect surfaces more. This also goes for offices especially those that are getting ready to transition back to the office. To be extra careful, it’s best to consider commercial cleaning services to ensure the safety of your employees.


Always check the label of the products you’re using, this is applicable not only to food but also to your cleaning materials. Most people forget that chemicals and ingredients degrade and lose their cleaning ability over time especially when improperly stored. Products need proper ventilation for them to have a longer shelf life. Brands usually recommend for them to be stored in room temperature without direct sunlight, this could be anywhere between your bathroom cabinet, your cupboard, or at one corner of your basement. However, this might still vary per product so always check the label and instructions on your products. While you’re at it, you might want to check the best before or expiration date as well to see if you need to replace them. 

These tasks may seem a little bit tedious, but the key is to make it a habit especially now that we’re going into this “new normal” era after the outbreak. It’s important to slowly implement extra measures in cleaning and disinfecting on our daily routines. Additionally, constantly handwashing, sanitizing, and maintaining good hygiene should still not be overlooked. Remember that there is no correct way to handle this pandemic, but we can do our best to ensure the safety of everyone around us.