Disinfecting vs. Cleaning: Do you know the difference?

Contrary to what Clorox or Lysol would like you to believe in their TV commercials, these two terms are not interchangeable. We see it everyday, where we live, learn, work and play. Admittedly, I have confused these concepts in my own life. Read the back of your disinfectant in your home, office or school and you will see what I mean. It most likely says something like this…

To Disinfect apply to a pre–cleaned surface and let sit for 10 minutes.

Do you actually to that? Do you use a cleaner first and then leave the disinfectant wet on your toilet seat for 10 minutes, or do you spray the disinfectant and immediately wipe away?

If you chose the latter, you are in the vast majority. So why would a disinfectant manufacturer tell you to clean the surface first? It’s because cleaners and disinfectants are not one in the same.

Disinfectants are designed to kill; cleaners are designed to help remove. Both can help control microbial activity, one does the job chemically, the other mechanically. The Green cleaning world prefers the mechanical means through proper removal for a couple of reasons:

1. Disinfectants leave residue – this is the beginning to what the CDC calls bio-film. The reason you have to pre–clean that surface you want to disinfect is to remove any biofilm that can interfere with the properties of the disinfectant and make that chemical kill 1,000 times less effective.

2. Disinfectants rarely have a neutral pH – This means that while trying to kill these organisms, we are also harming the surfaces in which we apply them, deteriorating the finishes and making the surface porous, becoming a home for microbial activity. A vicious cycle…

So, what to do? WJ Eco-Clean teaches to reserve your disinfectant for biologic spills (blood, urine, vomit, etc.) but only after that spill has been cleaned.



JakeJake Chaney is the Sales Director for WJ’s Office Supply and Eco-Clean Divisions. He is also Green Clean Institute Certified Distributor Representative.

WJ’s Eco-Clean division is dedicated to providing information to those interested in protecting the health of the environment, indoor air quality, front-line cleaning staff, and occupants of a given environment (human or otherwise).