What Is The Difference Between Sanitizers And Disinfectants?

Apr 30, 2021

When buying cleaning supplies, the labels can get a little overwhelming and confusing. Teresa Hunsaker Family Consumer Science Educator with USU Extension joins me today to talk about disinfectants and sanitizers.

What is the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing?

Teresa Hunsaker:  Oh, that is a great question. Disinfecting is the highest form of kill on the bacteria or the pathogens. Sanitizing is still great, but it doesn't kill or remove quite as many of the bacteria or pathogens, the things that are harmful.

Kailey Foster: So, when would you want to use a disinfectant over sanitizer and vice versa?

TH: Sometimes they can be used interchangeable. The key on using disinfectants or sanitizers is to read the label for what is called the contact time. In other words, how long should this surface be wet with the disinfecting or sanitizing solution. 

So typically, they can be used interchangeably, they just need longer contact time to sanitize. And disinfecting actually needs less because it's a stronger solution for killing the bugs.

KF: Do you have any tips for best practices when using these?

TH: Probably my first tip would be to read the label. The second tip that I would suggest is understanding what surfaces would respond better to what either sanitizer or disinfectant.

Let's say I'm making a bleach solution. The more concentrated the bleach solution is the more kill or disinfecting it does, and the less time that it needs on the surface. The weaker the solution, the longer it has to stay on the surface, and it doesn't kill as much. 

But remember some surfaces can't handle bleach.  I need to make sure that I'm matching my surface with either my sanitizer the length of time that it needs to stay on with the type of disinfecting or sanitizing that I'm doing.

KF: I remember over the summer, there was a warning sent out about fraudulent disinfectants and cleaners. I guess my question would be what are some resources people can use to make sure that they have a good product?

TH: There are some good resources out there. The EPA is one that a lot of people don't think about, the CDC is another one, and USDA is also another one. So those would be places that I would look to first to make sure that I'm understanding the information and not getting poor information. 

But again, the main thing is reading those labels and knowing about the contact time for what I want to do.