The Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing

The Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing

The Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing

Clean, Disinfect, Sterilize: What’s the Difference?

Cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing are three terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings and purposes. Understanding the difference between these processes is essential, especially in situations where maintaining a clean and germ-free environment is crucial, such as during a pandemic or in a survival scenario.


Cleaning is the first and most basic step in maintaining a hygienic environment. It involves removing dirt, debris, and organic matter from surfaces, making them visually clean. Cleaning can be done using soap, water, and a scrub brush or other cleaning tools.

While cleaning removes visible dirt and grime, it does not necessarily remove pathogens like bacteria and viruses that may be present on the surfaces. Therefore, cleaning alone is not enough to ensure a germ-free environment.


Disinfecting is the process of killing or inactivating a broad spectrum of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, on surfaces. Disinfectants are chemical substances specifically formulated to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms.

It is important to note that disinfectants are not effective at removing dirt or debris, so cleaning is still necessary before disinfecting. To properly disinfect a surface, you should apply the disinfectant and allow it to remain wet on the surface for a specific amount of time, as indicated on the product label.


Sterilizing takes the process one step further by completely eliminating or destroying all forms of microorganisms, including bacterial spores, viruses, and fungi. Sterilization is usually achieved through a combination of high temperatures, chemicals, or radiation.

Unlike cleaning and disinfecting, sterilization is typically performed in specialized environments such as hospitals, laboratories, and surgical facilities. It is not a practical or necessary process for everyday cleaning and hygiene practices unless you are performing medical procedures or preparing medical equipment.

When to Clean, Disinfect, or Sterilize

Knowing when to clean, disinfect, or sterilize is important for maintaining a safe and hygienic environment. Here are some general guidelines:

– Clean surfaces regularly to remove dirt, debris, and visible grime.
– Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and countertops, especially during flu seasons or outbreaks of contagious diseases.
– Sterilize medical and surgical equipment to prevent the spread of infections.

My 2 Cents

In everyday life, practicing good hygiene with regular cleaning and disinfecting is usually sufficient to maintain a clean and germ-free environment. However, in specific situations where you need to go the extra mile, such as during a pandemic or in a survival scenario, understanding the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing becomes crucial.

Remember that cleaning is the first step, and it should always be followed by disinfecting if you want to eliminate or reduce the presence of pathogens on surfaces. Sterilization is a more intense process that is generally reserved for medical facilities or specialized environments.

Having the knowledge and necessary cleaning supplies on hand can give you peace of mind in knowing that you are taking the necessary precautions to stay healthy and prevent the spread of diseases. So, be sure to stock up on cleaning agents, disinfectants, and any other supplies that you may need in case of emergencies.

Stay safe, stay clean, and stay prepared!


– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Cleaning, Disinfection, and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities. Retrieved from
– World Health Organization. (2021). Cleaning and Disinfection of Environmental Surfaces in the Context of COVID-19. Retrieved from