Cleaners, Disinfectants and Sanitizers - What's the difference?
Knowing the difference between a cleaner, disinfectant or sanitizer is important for your safety. They are not all the same and selecting the right one for the job is important to your health and safety. Whether it is for home use, at work or even in a healthcare setting, we are constantly surrounded by dirt, germs, bacteria and even some potentially infectious diseases. This is nothing new but we can help prevent sickness and cross contamination by properly treating the means by which they spread. Each of these 3 types of products are all designed for specific purposes and this article will briefly outline what they are. Common questions about the use of these products and their applications are also answered below.
Here are the differences between Cleaners, Sanitizers and Disinfectants
- Cleaners are designed to remove dirt, oils, organic matter and even some germs. They are not designed to kill germs.
- Sanitizers are specifically designed to reduce germs from surfaces to a safe level.
- Disinfectants are designed to destroy germs or keep them from growing. They are not to be used as cleaners. After using a cleaner you can then use a disinfectant.
The Center for Disease Control has a good article about the proper use of cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants. We've addressed some of the common questions about this topic below.
Typical questions asked about cleaners, disinfectants and sanitizers
How to know what product you have?
Read the label. These products will clearly tell you what their purpose is. The can of Lysol IC is clearly marked as both a cleaner and disinfectant. Reading the back of the can tells us that it is germicidal, fungicidal and crucial. It disinfects and kills MRSA. Disinfectants that claim to be effective against Staphylococcus aureus or staph are most likely also effective against MRSA. This is a great product to use to clean off dirt, grime, germs and even bodily fluids like blood from a first aid kit.
Is it safe to use around pets or small children?
Care should always be used when applying any poisonous materials around small children or animals. The product label will explain warnings and precautions when using their product.
How long does the product need to be applied before wiping up?
This is a very common question. Cleaners generally don't mention this but disinfectants and sanitizers will usually provide the length of time their product should set on the surface applied. In some cases it may need to set for several minutes. Be sure to read the instructions for application.
What should I do with the potentially infected rags, towels or paper products used to clean up?
In most states, unless the potentially infectious material has enough volume where it is dripping from the absorbent material it can be disposed of in the garbage.
What personal protection equipment is necessary when using the product?
Always use Universal Precautions when working with potentially infections materials. The manufacturers label will also inform you of what recommended personal protection equipment to use.
What are examples of surfaces I should consider disinfecting?
Consider disinfecting any shared equipment such as keyboards. Hard surfaces like desks, counters, door knobs, handles and first aid kit latches are all places where germs and diseases can breed. Places like bathrooms should be disinfected on a regular basis. Also benches, chairs, escalator hand grips and keypad buttons like on an ATM machine are all targets germs. Even gas pump handles are common transfer points that contain bacteria and germs. Floors and walls have not beed directly associated with the spread of diseases like MRSA or staph but is is a good idea to disinfect any surface that comes in contact with the hands.
As always, proper hand washing and the disposal of personal protection equipment should be used.