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Cleaning, Disinfecting and Sanitizing: What's the Difference?

Cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing are all important to stop the spread of illness in child-care settings. But what is the difference?

Cleaning is the removal of organic matter or dirt from items/objects, usually using soap, water, detergent and enzymatic cleaners. Cleaning will help remove most, but not all germs on an object. Cleaning should always start with the cleanest (least contaminated) area and end with the dirtiest (most contaminated) area to prevent the spread of germs. Cleaning must be done before disinfection and sanitization.

Disinfecting is a chemical process that kills or destroys most disease-producing germs on a non-porous surface, with the exception of high numbers of bacterial cysts or spores. There are three levels of disinfection: high, immediate and low-level.

High-level disinfectant is used to fight more dangerous micro-organisms such as tuberculosis-causing germs, norovirus and rotavirus. Intermediate level disinfectant is used for fighting against fungi. Low-level disinfectant is used for common bacteria and viruses such as salmonella and flu virus. In Canada, every disinfectant is regulated by Health Canada and has a Drug Identification Number (DIN) on its label.

Sanitizing is a chemical process that reduces the number of bacteria on food contact surfaces. Health Canada regulates all sanitizers sold in this country. Only sanitizers with disinfectant claims (E.g. bactericidal, virucidal) carry a DIN on their labels.

For more information, speak to a Public Health Inspector at the HKPR District Health Unit.