Cleaning vs. Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting: There is a Difference
Hold on, we’re going to break some common misconceptions in this post!
Misconception #1: What room do you think is the dirtiest (germiest) part of your house?
Most people said that it is the bathroom (in a study of 22 families), but in reality, it is THE KITCHEN. Coliform bacteria –indicating possible fecal contamination—was found on: (from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers)
More than 75% of dish sponges and rags
45% of kitchen sinks
32% of countertops
18% of cutting boards
Overall, the 10 germiest items in the household, listed in order, are:
Coffee reservoir: (NSF’s 2011 International Household Germ Study found yeast and mold present in 31% of households studied. In half of those, it was found in the coffee reservoir of the coffeemaker.)
Bathroom faucet handle
Stove knobs: Staphyloccus aureus (staph), a common and potentially harmful type of bacteria,was found on stove knobs in 5% of the homes where the bacteria was discovered.
Misconception #2: In the US, we tend to use the words cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting interchangeably, but they really are not the same!
Many people use vinegar to clean because it is a “natural” non-toxic product, but it does not sanitize. “It’s a misconception that if you’re using vinegar to clean, you’re sanitizing,” says Mindy Costello, a registered environmental health sanitarian and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) consumer product certification specialist. “Cleaning is just removing the soil. In sanitizing, you’re killing the microorganisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi).” If you want to reduce your risk of getting sick, sanitizing is the way to go. (Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers) Sanitization reduces contamination or bacteria to a safe level.
Now, if you really want to go all-out, disinfection kills everything on a particular surface, according to Travers Anderson, R&D Group Manager at Clorox.
Now that you know what cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting are, where and when should they be used?
According to Mr. Anderson at Clorox, sanitizing is best for surfaces that don't typically come into contact with hazardous bacteria, or those that shouldn't come into contact with powerful chemicals: Think cooking tools and food prep surfaces or toys that children come into close contact with (or put into their mouths). Disinfecting is for the big messes, particularly those involving bodily fluids, blood, and the like. In household settings, you'd disinfect a toilet or sinks. (realsimple.com)
Sanitizing can be done with a cleaning product, or with appliances that have this built-in feature, like a dishwasher or washing machine. These appliances do so with high heat during the cycle. It’s important to use these cycles to sanitize your laundry and dishes regularly, especially clothes and dishes worn and used by people who are ill. Sanitize high-contact surfaces regularly, and do dishes as soon as possible, as bacteria begins to grow after about two hours on soiled dishes left at room temperature according to Ms. Costello of the NSF.
Dishwashers and washing machines are tested by the NSF to ensure their sanitizing cycles are faultless. Clothes washers must show that the sanitizing cycle removes 99.9% of microorganisms from laundry and dishwashers must show a reduction of 99.999%. During testing, three common organisms – staphyloccus aureus, klebsiella pneumoniae, and pseudomonas aeruginosa – are added to the loads of dishes or laundry. The level of bacteria is tested afterward. The water in dishwashers that earn the NSF mark for sanitization must reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit during the final rinse and stay at or above that temperature long enough to achieve the 99.999 % reduction.
The sanitizing cycle doesn’t need to be used on every load of clothing, however, because the high heat can cause colors to fade and fibers to wear over time. It’s a good idea to use it when laundering clothing or bedding from someone who’s sick, or when washing sweaty clothing, or when towels or clothing smell musty–indicating mold growth. (realsimple.com)
To sanitize sponges and dishrags, heat them in the microwave for two minutes while they’re wet.
As for cleaning products, we are all for non-toxic ones. TotalClean is an all-purpose cleaner and deodorizer that is safe to use in all areas of the home, from the kitchen to the bathroom to your childrens’ toys. It hasn’t been tested according to the EPA’s requirements for sanitizing and disinfection yet, so we recommend it for cleaning purposes and will advise when these tests are completed!
Bleach is a sanitizer at low concentrations and a disinfectant at higher concentrations. However, bleach has toxic VOCs and we don’t recommend it. Instead, try hypochlorous acid. Even though it sounds toxic and it’s related to bleach (hypochlorite), hypochlorous is much safer as well as being a far superior disinfectant to bleach. One of the most fundamental reasons for this is its pH. Hypochlorous acid exists at a near-neutral pH (5-7). Bleach resides at a highly-alkaline pH (8-13). The germ-killing properties of bleach are derived from the presence of hypochlorous acid. However, because of its high pH, the majority of the hypochlorous acid present in bleach ends up getting converted to hypochlorite, which is a less effective disinfectant. (hypsosource.com)
Here’s something else you may not know: the dirtier the surface is, the less effective the disinfectant is. (sfgate.com) Switching from using bleach to hypochlorous as a sanitizer is not complicated at all, but it may mean you need to adjust some of your cleaning protocols. For example, cleaning the area with regular soap and water first to remove the bulk of organic material present allows your sanitizer (hypochlorous acid) to disinfect much more effectively. Otherwise, the chlorine in the hypochlorous gets used up trying to break down the organic matter, instead of focusing on killing the more resilient pathogens. (hypsosource.com)
If you aren’t convinced, check out the following table. It shows that hypochlorous needs less concentration (parts per million or ppm) and less contact time than bleach to do the same or better job at disinfection!
Now that you know about hypochlorous acid, check out the following disinfectants::
Force of Nature is a multi-purpose cleaner & EPA registered disinfectant that kills 99.9% of germs. It’s even EPA approved for use against Covid-19. Best of all, you can easily make more cleaner at home with their small countertop appliance plus a capsule of salt, water & vinegar. No bulky plastic bottles to tote home or try to recycle! Force of Nature is hypochlorous acid, a powerful disinfectant.
Clean Republic’s All Purpose Cleaner is also hypochlorous acid, and it comes pre-mixed in 3 small spray bottles for $15. The size of the bottles mean that you can carry them in your car or stash them in small spaces to use whenever and wherever you need to!
Cleanwell Botanical Disinfectant Cleaning Wipes are also a great on-the-go disinfector. They use Thymol, which is a component of botanical thyme oil that was approved in 2020 by the EPA as an effective disinfectant against SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It also disinfects bacteria and viruses including MRSA, Salmonella, H1N1, Influenza A, Staph, E-Coli, Norovirus, Rhinovirus, and more. The thyme scent is very pleasant.
The Honest Company Disinfecting Spray uses hydrogen peroxide to clean, disinfect, and deodorize while meeting EPA’s criteria for products effective against SARS-CoV-2 and a laundry list of other germs. If you’re familiar with hydrogen peroxide, it’s one of our favorite non-toxic cleaners that you can safely use on food surfaces and children’s items. However, it can be a bit harsh, etching marble and granite, it shouldn’t be mixed with vinegar, and can discolor fabrics.
Disinfecting shouldn’t require heavy gloves, eye protection and a respirator! Knowledge is power, and you CAN disinfect without smelly, toxic chemicals. It’s just a matter of changing your mindset and your tools (cleaning products), so that it’s easy to do. Breathe easier knowing that your home is clean AND disinfected, the non-toxic way!
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash