Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are all important processes that help to keep surfaces decontaminated to a level that reduces the risk of infection transmission based on specific characteristics (material type, level of contamination, etc.) of the surface being decontaminated. It’s important to understand the differences between these processes and to understand the characteristics of the surfaces and have knowledge of the processes that are required in order to make the right selection of which process is needed to properly complete the job.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the specifics of cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, including the differences between them and the importance of understanding these differences.  Depending on the facility and location within the facility these processes may be regulated by federal, state or local governances.

Definition of Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting


Cleaning is the process of removing visible dirt and other debris from surfaces using soap or detergents. This process helps to remove any organic and inorganic matter that may be present on the surface, which can harbor bacteria and other pathogens. Cleaning is the first step in the process of preparing the surface for further steps of decontamination, such as sanitizing and disinfecting.  If an item or surface is not clean the process of sanitizing or disinfecting should be rendered ineffective.


The process of sanitizing is intended to reduce the number of bacterial organisms on a surface to a “level determined to be safe” by that specific industry.  The industry standards may require that specific procedure be used and may even regulate the sanitizing agent. Sanitizing procedures are intended to decrease the number of viable bacteria. Sanitizing should not create a toxic exposure risk to individuals using the sanitizer or those coming in contact with the surfaces sanitized. The process of sanitizing may not kill viruses or fungi, but it does help to reduce the number of bacteria present on the surfaces. Sanitizing is an important step in the process of keeping surfaces at a decreased risk of transmitting bacterial infection.


Disinfecting is the next higher level of decontamination.  It involves killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi on surfaces. Disinfectants are divided into categories, low level, intermediate level, and high-level disinfectants. Low level disinfectants kill most vegetative bacteria, some fungi and some viruses.  Intermediate level disinfectants kill hardier more difficult to kill organisms such as mycobacteria, most fungi and some spores. High-level disinfectants kill spores and a variety of other microorganisms. Low and intermediate level disinfectants are used to disinfect surfaces and are reviewed and registered with the EPA.  High-level disinfectants are used to disinfect and sterilize medical equipment and are approved and regulated by the FDA. When choosing a disinfectant, it is important to know what level of disinfecting (targeted pathogens) is needed based on the surface type that needs to be disinfected. For example: Is the surface a high-touch and high transmission risk surface like door knobs, toilets, sinks, etc. or is it a low touch and low risk surface like vent covers, high reach surfaces or the floor. An additional consideration when using a disinfectant is contact time. This is the amount of time the disinfectant should remain wet on the surface before it dries. Harder to kill organisms require a longer contact time, refer to the manufactures’ labeling for this information.

Differences Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

The biggest difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting is the types of pathogens that they kill. Cleaning is used to remove visible dirt and other debris from surfaces, and it does not specifically kill bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Sanitizing is used to kill bacteria on surfaces while disinfecting is used to kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and some spores.

Another key difference between these three processes is the level of effectiveness. Cleaning is the first step in the process of decontaminating surfaces, but it is not intended to kill pathogens. Sanitizing and disinfecting are both used to kill pathogens, but which process to choose depends on the level of contamination of the surface, the surface type and the industry standards; regulation may also have input as to which process is required.  Between the two processes, disinfecting has a broader kill and will kill the greater number of pathogens present on a surface.

Importance of Understanding the Differences

Understanding the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting is important because it can help you make the right selection of which process is best used when it comes to decontamination of your environment, at work, school, or your personal business.

This knowledge is intended to help you make a more informed decisions about the products and methods that you use to clean and decontaminate your environment. For example, if your surfaces are considered low level of contamination after cleaning you may only need a sanitizer but if your surfaces are considered at a higher level of contamination, after cleaning you may need a disinfectant to effectively reduce the transmission risk of infection. Also, take into consideration that industry standards may play a role in the selection process, such as food industry or medical industry, etc.  We here at 21st Century Healthcare are here to assist you in making the correct decisions related to decontaminating your surfaces; contact us for assistance.

Introducing Hydrolyte®

Hydrolyte® is a powerful intermediate-level disinfectant that utilizes hypochlorous acid (HOCl) to effectively kill pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and some spores) such as influenza, SARS-CoV-2, C. Diff, MRSA, C. Auris (multidrug resistant bacteria), and Monkey Pox. Additionally, it is on the EPA’s Emerging Pathogen and Viral Pathogen lists as being effectiveness against viruses such as COVID-19 and Monkey Pox. Hydrolyte® is also on the EPA’s K list against C. diff. Hypochlorous acid (HOCL) is naturally produced, at a lower concentration, by our white blood cells as the first line of defense against invading pathogens. Hydrolyte® is the shipping label for PCTL’s hypochlorous acid disinfectant and is shipped to customers who need small amounts of disinfectant on a monthly basis.

Introducing OSG 460D

OSG 460D (On-Site Generated) is the same intermediate-level disinfectant as Hydrolyte® with the exception that 21st Century Healthcare produces the disinfectant fresh on-site in your facility.  As you would imagine, on-site generation is for customers who have a large demand or a fluctuating demand for disinfectant. It boasts a high concentration of 500 parts per million of free available chlorine from hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and it is free of volatile organic compounds, making it more suitable for use by more fragile individuals such as those with respiratory issues. It’s considered non-toxic to humans and animals but kills 99.9999% of pathogens. It’s also quat free, and since it has no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), it greatly reduces the risk, if not eliminates the risk, of causing or exacerbating breathing problems. Another great feature of OSG 460D is that it is produced fresh, on-demand, as needed on-site; therefore, it is available now, no supply chain issues from the manufacture and there is no wait on shipping, and you can use as much as needed without additional cost.


In conclusion, cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are all very important processes that play a vital role in keeping hard surfaces clean and decontaminated. However, it is crucial to understand the differences between these processes in order to make the right decision for your work, school, or personal business environment.

Cleaning is used to remove dirt and debris, sanitizing is used to reduce and kill bacteria, and disinfecting is used to kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi to include some spores.

OSG 460D is a powerful disinfectant that uses hypochlorous acid, which is naturally produced by white blood cells, to effectively eliminate pathogens. The benefits discussed in the above section should make you realize that bringing OSG 460D into your environment is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. While cleaning is the removal of dirt and organic matter, OSG 460D can sanitize when properly diluted, but it is most effectively used as a disinfectant that is produced on-site and available on demand. Contact us at 21st Century Healthcare so we may assist you meeting your environmental needs, by considering using OSG 460D to disinfect and/or sanitize your hard surfaces.

Get started by contacting 21st Century Healthcare today.