What is the difference between cleaning, sanitisation and disinfection?


Within the cleaning industry, a lot of people get confused with what is the difference between cleaning, sanitisation and disinfection.

We’ll explain the difference below –


Definition: The removal of visible soil, debris, micro-organisms and organic substances from surfaces; will not completely eliminate germs, however, will remove some contaminated matter.

Cleaning is just the first step in completing the decontamination process, and one you cannot skip, as this will ensure the area is free of any visible matter, which makes it easier to remove microscopic germs with more intensive methods later.

Cleaning should be carried out using clean water in combination with a universal detergent.

Items with a lower risk of transferring any pathogens like floors and windows may only need a surface clean. Even so, these surfaces can be cross-contaminated from hand touching and may harbour an increased risk of any disease or viral transfer.


Definition: The reduction of bacteria to safe levels set by Public Health England, to decrease the risk of infection.

The next stage after cleaning, sanitisation kills a greater amount of bacteria and is required for food preparation surfaces.

“A sanitiser is a chemical that kills 99.999% of the specific bacteria in 30 seconds under the conditions of a test”, Public Health England.

Therefore, while sanitisers kill the majority of certain kinds of bacteria, sanitisation products and techniques will not eliminate all viruses.

Surfaces in your home and/or workplace that are most at risk of contamination will require additional decontamination to effectively control your liability.


Definition: The elimination of pathogens and disease-causing micro-organisms, except bacterial spores.

Disinfection is a stronger decontamination method because of its ability to eliminate harmful pathogens.

There are several grades of chemical disinfectants and you will have to choose one that meets your workplace’s environmental needs:

  • Low-Level Disinfectant – Kills almost all vegetative bacteria, along with some viruses and fungi, but will not remove bacterial spores.
  • High-Level Disinfectant – Eliminates all micro-organisms, except for small numbers of bacterial spores; however, is capable of killing bacterial spores when used in adequate concentration under suitable conditions.
  • Hospital Grade Disinfectant – These kinds of disinfectants all need to be approved by the UK Environment Agency for use in all medical facilities. There are roughly 1,200 registered hospital-grade disinfectants and these can eliminate many known infections and disease-causing bacteria

As you have just read there are differences between each word used when it comes to cleaning, sanitisation and disinfection. We would recommend sharing this information with your family, friends and work colleagues to help everyone to understand.

For any more information,  please contact your local ServiceMaster Clean and they’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.