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Cleaners vs Disinfectants vs Sanitizers

Cleaners vs Disinfectants vs Sanitizers

Germs (including bacteria, pathogens, viruses and other microorganisms) are everywhere—at home, in the office, even in your car. Luckily, approximately 99% of these germs can’t really harm us, but the other 1% possibly could. Most of these germs are usually viral or bacterial and can cause anything from the common cold and flu to a potentially life-threatening infection. Keeping your building germ-free by routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces can make for a healthier and happier workplace (and reduce the number of sick days used!).

Often many misunderstandings arise about the differences between cleaners, disinfectants and sanitizers. They’re not the same thing as you’ll see:

Cleaning removes visible debris, dirt and dust from surfaces reducing the allergens and microorganisms from the indoor environment. Cleaning is beneficial for “low-risk” surfaces where the chance of pathogen transfer from the surface is low risk such as on floors and windows. Regular cleaning products do a good job of removing soil, but only disinfectant cleaners kill the germs that can cause many illnesses. Unfortunately, while a surface may look clean, many infectious germs may still be lurking around. Given the right conditions for the germs, they can live on surfaces for hours and even for days. Surfaces like kitchen and bathroom counters, door knobs, toilet seats and children’s toys may be contaminated with bacteria even when they’re not visibly soiled.

Disinfecting is appropriate for frequently touched surfaces which are likely to harbor germs. Disinfecting products will list what microscopic organisms they claim to “kill” on their label. Disinfectants contain antimicrobial ingredients that kill germs if surfaces are free from heavy soil. Disinfectant or antibacterial cleaners contain ingredients for removing soil, as well as antimicrobial ingredients that kill germs.

Sanitizing is meant to reduce (not kill) the occurrence and growth of bacteria. Sanitation of food contact surfaces is required as part of the food code. Since sanitizing does not make anti-viral claims, sanitizing offers no confidence of killing viruses commonly found on surfaces.

Hot Zones

Some locations are obvious for germs to spread such as the bathroom doorknob but many more locales exist that are havens for germs.

Break Room Faucet Handle– The metal screen at the end of the faucet is a germ magnet. Running water keeps the screen moist, an ideal condition for bacteria growth and if someone accidentally touches the screen with dirty fingers or food, bacteria can grow on the faucet very quickly.

Soap Dispensers– Though it sounds ironic, a recent study showed that about 25% of restroom soap dispensers are contaminated by fecal bacteria. The bottoms of the dispensers are touched by dirty hands, so a continuous culture is feeding millions of bacteria.

Desk Phones and Computers– Anything that gets a lot of direct contact with hands and fingers shows an extremely high concentration of germs and all it takes for the contract of germs to occur is to touch the mouse or keyboard and then make contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Other hot spots include: microwave oven and refrigerator door handles, water fountain buttons, vending machine buttons, coffee pots and dispensers.

Hughes stocks a large variety of janitorial supplies for your company including cleaning products, bleach, disinfectants and more. Order, buy Janitorial Supplies from Hughes. For help with ordering janitorial supplies contact a Hughes Sales Representative for assistance.

Image courtesy of Ambro at