The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

The difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting is more important now than it’s ever been before. While the terms are used interchangeably, they all have distinct connotations in the world of cleaning. 

Our Bay Area cleaners explain the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting and how they play a part in keeping a healthy office or workplace here.

What Is the Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting?

Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are three separate processes, each of which has its purpose — whether you’re meeting with clients or working closely with students. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Cleaning - Cleaning removes dirt and debris.
  • Sanitizing - Sanitizing reduces bacteria by cleaning or disinfecting the surface.
  • Disinfecting - Disinfecting kills germs with chemical-based products.

What Is Cleaning?

Cleaning involves removing dust or dirt from a surface; this is typically done with a cloth or wipe along with a soap or detergent. While cleaning won’t kill germs or bacteria, it can improve the effectiveness of sanitizing and disinfecting an object. 

As far as commercial janitorial services go, cleaning is essential to building upkeep. For instance, high-touch points like door handles, appliances, and countertops should be cleaned and sanitized for the health of everyone inside your building. The more a surface is touched, the more often it needs to be cleaned.

Another example is carpet cleaning, which visibly removes debris from your floors with vacuuming, dry-cleaning, and hot water extraction methods. Removing this build-up can extend the life of your carpets, which is a major benefit of recurring carpet cleaning services.

What Is Sanitizing?

Sanitizing decreases, but doesn’t necessarily eliminate, bacteria from surfaces. 

Most EPA-approved sanitizers only claim to kill bacteria, not viruses. Additionally, sanitizers usually contain less harsh chemicals than disinfectants, making them safer for food-contact surfaces like school lunch tables. 

At Unified Janitorial Services, we use a sanitizing mist sprayer as part of our COVID-19 sanitation services, which allows us to effectively sanitize large areas like lobbies, entrances, and hallways. This ensures every last inch of your commercial office or school building is clean and sanitized.

What Is Disinfecting?

Disinfecting can eliminate bacteria and viruses. 

Generally speaking, if the words “disinfect” or “disinfectant” aren’t used on a product’s label, it isn’t EPA-registered to kill harmful germs that cause colds or the flu. 

So, if someone in your commercial office or workplace has recently been sick, it’s best to disinfect their area instead of sanitizing it. 

For example, our commercial disinfection services use industrial-strength disinfectants to create a healthy working environment. Bathroom deep cleaning also heavily relies on disinfecting surfaces like sinks and toilets to prevent the spread of germs.

Commercial Janitorial Services in the Bay Area and Central Coast

With over two decades of experience and talented staff, you can depend on Unified Janitorial Services for all of your cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting needs. 

We offer a variety of cleaning supplies, including eco-friendly options that are safe for you and your staff. Our professional janitorial services are reserved for commercial businesses throughout the Bay Area and Central Coast. 

Call 831-229-9120 or contact us today for a FREE, no-hassle quote!


"I love that I can call them 24/7 to address any needs or last-minute requests."

—Jason Wilson | Broadcom Solutions, Inc. San Jose, CA

"They handle all of our building needs like carpets & floors, as well as doing a great job with the nightly cleaning."

—Yolanda Herrera | All Bay Mechanical
San Jose, CA

3000 Haas Drive Aptos, CA 95003