What Is the Difference Between Sanitising and Disinfecting?

Healthcare | 13/5/2021

Hygiene and cleanliness should always be top of mind regardless of your place of work or industry. Now, more than ever, employers are prioritising safe, clean workplaces with rigorous cleaning, disinfecting and sanitising protocols so they can open up to the public and get back to normal. Keeping surfaces clean, but also sanitised and disinfected, can help stop the spread of germs, COVID-19 and other viruses, but also improve the reputation of your organisation as a whole and help consumers and visitors feel more comfortable in your environment.


So what is the difference between sanitising and disinfecting? Let’s take a closer look at the main distinctions between these two cleaning methods for germ removal, the benefits of each about the Rubbermaid tools you can use to ensure proper sanitising and disinfection.


Before understanding what sets sanitising apart from disinfecting, let’s cover the umbrella term first: cleaning. Sanitising and disinfecting are two prominent components in germ removal, but cleaning is just as important, if not more. 


According to Safe Work Australia, cleaning is defined as the physical process of washing away germs, viruses, bacteria and dirt by a means of soap and water. Germs are not necessarily killed or removed completely during this process, but cleaning is known to remove a portion of germs and stop the spread of germs and harmful bacteria, thus reducing infection risk. Cleaning can be an effective solution for objects, hands and hard surfaces. 


While sanitising and disinfecting are necessary for removing and eliminating bacteria and germs altogether, cleaning is considered a critical step to achieving optimal decontamination. As stated by the CDC, the sterilisation process must start with general cleaning to be successful:


“Cleaning is a form of decontamination that renders the environmental surface safe to handle or use by removing organic matter, salts, and visible soils, all of which interfere with microbial inactivation. The physical action of scrubbing with detergents and surfactants and rinsing with water removes large numbers of microorganisms from surfaces. If the surface is not cleaned before the terminal reprocessing procedures are started, the success of the sterilization or disinfection process is compromised.”


Research also shows that cleaning is necessary for reducing infection transmission all around — when people touch a contaminated surface, their hands become contaminated which may lead to infection of themselves or others without proper hand hygiene. 


Sanitising is known as the removal of bacteria and germs, lowering the instances of both to a safe level in compliance with government health standards. The main differentiator between sanitising and disinfecting is that sanitising is known to reduce the amount of germs that exist on a dirty surface while disinfecting kills germs on the spot. 


Disinfecting is defined as the use of chemicals to eliminate germs on impact. As suggested by Safe Work Australia, some of the most effective disinfectants for hard surfaces include: 


  • Alcohol with a concentration of at least 70%
  • Chlorine bleach 
  • Oxygen bleach
  • Wipes and sprays with quaternary ammonium compounds


While all three protocols can be performed on their own, cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting, in that order, can provide the greatest sense of cleanliness. Cleaning to reduce the amount of harmful bacteria, visible dirt and grime can make it easier for disinfectants to kill germs successfully. 

What are the benefits of sanitising?

While sanitising doesn’t kill germs on contact, it can still remove a major portion of germs and bacteria that reside on a dirty surface. Here are other advantages of sanitising:


It reduces infection risk 

Sanitising reduces the number of germs on a surface, whether that be on the floor, countertop or even your hands. To get sick, there is a certain amount of germs you have to come in contact with. By reducing the number of germs on a surface, you can lower the risk of infection across the board. Hand sanitiser is also known for reducing infection risk, but cleaning your hands with soap and water is generally the preferred method of cleanliness. 


It’s a fast-acting process

When it comes to using sanitiser, you can expect germs and bacteria to be removed almost instantly. Disinfectant takes longer to eliminate germs


“Sanitisers and disinfectants also differ in how long they take to work, known as dwell time,” Alexander Aiken, MB, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told Business Insider Australia. “Sanitisers can work almost immediately whereas the chemicals in disinfectants take up to 10 minutes to kill germs.”


That’s why sanitising before disinfecting is so important. When you take the time to sanitise, you are removing the germs that disinfectant would take longer to kill. 

What are the benefits of disinfecting?

Disinfecting is the easiest way to eliminate germs, bacteria and viruses from a surface. Sterilisation is the biggest advantage of disinfecting. Other benefits of disinfection include: 


It provides peace of mind

Getting rid of germs is one of the most important factors in stopping viruses in their tracks. In household use, disinfectant is useful when someone in the house is sick; disinfecting the bathroom, as well as doorknobs, handles, light switches and other frequently touched surfaces and often used items is essential. In commercial settings, the same is suggested — eliminating germs from frequently touched surfaces is pertinent to ensure your place of business is safe for consumers to gather and visit. In restaurant or food service settings, disinfecting food contact surfaces or areas where raw meat is handled, prepped and cooked is also essential. 


There are many disinfectant cleaning options available

In terms of sterilisation, disinfectant wipes, disinfectant sprays and other liquid disinfectant solutions are useful, convenient and successful in killing germs.

How to use Rubbermaid products for sanitising and disinfecting

At Rubbermaid, when asked “What is the difference between sanitising and disinfecting?” we know that both steps are essential in the cleaning process. Here are a few of the tried and true cleaning product options that can be used to maintain sanitising and disinfecting protocols:


Our HYGEN disposable microfibre products are compatible with common disinfectants like quat, chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide so you can disinfect without worry. 


Similarly, our hand sanitiser stands can help you promote a clean and safe commercial space and give visitors peace of mind while they visit. This is a simple and seamless way to encourage visitors to use sanitiser in your space. 


Learn more about our other sanitising and disinfecting products by contacting us today.