Should you disinfect or sanitize your home?

Should you disinfect or sanitize your home?

Disinfect-or-sanitize-your-home
Photo by CDC

“Disinfect” is a word you’ve heard a lot this year. You’ve probably also heard “sanitize” (especially “hand sanitizer”) a lot as well. These terms come to mind when you go out in public (grocery store, restaurants, work, your child’s daycare), but what about when you are at home? Do you disinfect or sanitize your home?

Did you know there is a difference between disinfecting and sanitizing? In this blog post, I am going to explain the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing and what is appropriate for your home.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

The coronavirus has changed some things in our lives (possibly forever) due to the way we come in contact with it. Germs (coronavirus, other viruses, and bacteria) can be spread through the air and by touching surfaces where they are residing. Not to mention that the coronavirus can also live on surfaces for extended periods. And it’s because of this that there has been much attention brought to the terms “sanitize” and “disinfect”.

Although medical, education and daycare, restaurant, and commercial cleaning industries, use and emphasis these terms and their definitions a lot, they are not heard as much when it comes to your home.

So let’s dive in and find out what these terms mean.

Clean

Sanitizing and disinfecting run hand and hand with cleaning, and before you do either, you need to clean. So here is the definition of cleaning.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

“Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.”

This would be physically removing dust, dirt, grime, and other germs. You are probably cleaning some areas of your home on a weekly and even daily basis and have been doing it for years.

Some cleaning products to clean your household with:

Sanitize

The next level of defense to combat more germs on surfaces is to sanitize.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

“Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.”

This would mean that sanitizing is killing most of the germs, but not all of them. You should always clean the surface first before sanitizing.

Sanitizing is particularly important in areas and surfaces where food is prepared and served (like the kitchen). For food preparation, the surface should be a 99.999% reduction in microorganisms within 30 seconds. For hard surfaces not used for food service, the level should be at least 99.9% within 30 seconds.

Some common everyday household products to sanitize your home with:

You can also sanitize using high heat like a dishwasher or steam mop.

Disinfect

You can go even further with your cleaning efforts and disinfect.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

Disinfecting refers to using chemicals, for example, EPA-registered disinfectants, to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting is killing 99.9999% of the germs on surfaces. Again like sanitizing, you should clean the area first then disinfect. Disinfecting is usually done on nonporous surfaces and only on inanimate objects (nothing living).

The EPA has a list of registered disinfectants that you can see here. On the list are the following common household products:

Disinfect or sanitize your home?

Now that you have the definitions for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, which applies to your home? No matter what you do, you always need to be cleaning. And you should be doing some kind of cleaning in your home every day. But what is the appropriate next step to get rid of germs: sanitize or disinfect?

When and where should you sanitize your home:

Kitchen (food preparation and storage) and bathroom: It would be a smart idea to sanitize some areas in the kitchen and bathroom. Both rooms can get contaminated with germs, and they are used frequently by everyone in the house.

Common germs in the bathroom and kitchen are Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. Coli, Listeria, and the Norovirus. These germs can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea and vomiting to kidney disease and death.

In the kitchen, you should sanitize any area where you prepare food as well as where you store raw meat or any other food that can spoil in the refrigerator.

In the bathroom, you should focus on the highly used areas (shower and shower curtain, toilet, etc.) and utensils (toothbrush). To see a full list of areas that contain the most germs and should be sanitized in your bathroom, check out this study about bathroom germs from safehome.org. If you thought the toilet had the most germs in the bathroom, you’re going to be surprised.

Learn how to clean your kitchen and bathroom from the ceiling to the floor.

Do you have little ones? If you have little ones, then you are going to want to sanitize regularly.

It would be smart to sanitize any toys your child puts in their mouth or pacifiers and the floors (hard surfaces) your child may be crawling, sitting, and laying on.

Are you having a lot of people coming in and out of your home? If you are having a lot of people coming in and out of your home, then you would want to sanitize the high-touch surfaces: doorknobs (inside and outside), toilet and faucet handle, refrigerator handles, light switches, remote controls, and other frequently touched surfaces around your home.

When and where should you disinfect your home:

Is there someone in the home that is sick? If someone in the home is sick, you need to disinfect the areas the person has touched and other high-touch areas in the house, including their bedroom and bathroom.

If someone in your family is sick, especially with the coronavirus, follow this guide from the CDC for disinfecting your home.

Bodily fluids: If there is a bodily fluid spill in your home, then you should disinfect that area after cleaning it up.

Do you have little ones? If your little one is still in diapers or potty training, disinfect their changing table or potty training equipment.

What to consider when disinfecting your home

Disinfecting was first used for hospitals because of the type of environment that a hospital is. Your home is not the same as a hospital, so you won’t need to go to the same level of disinfecting. But as stated before, there are certain situations when disinfecting is better than sanitizing your home. And there are also factors to consider and keep in mind when disinfecting that can be hazardous if not done correctly.

These factors are:

Dwell time

A big reason a disinfectant will work properly is because of it’s dwell time (the contact time the product needs to set on the surface to kill the germs). Generally, disinfecting is going to have a longer dwell time than sanitizing. So if you are disinfecting an area in your home, you will need to allow for the dwell time of the product, and that area cannot be disturbed by anyone (including pets) in the house. So it is recommended to disinfect when no one else is home or in that area of the home.

Use the EPA’s List N to find the dwell times for disinfectants.

Harsh Chemicals

Personal-protective-equipment
Photo by Clay Banks

Another thing to consider is if you use a store-bought household cleaning disinfectant or bleach, these products contain harsh chemicals. This will mean you would have to wear gloves or other PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) when using these products. Harsh chemicals can cause breathing problems, headaches, and skin irritation if not handled correctly and worse if consumed by a child or pet.

Whenever you use a household cleaning product to disinfect or sanitize your home, always follow the directions on the label. And when keeping these products in your home, always be sure to store them away in areas pets and young children cannot get them.

Conclusion

Our world changed in 2020, and we must now be more aware of our surroundings when we leave our home and when others come into our home. We must wash our hands more often (for at least 20 seconds), wear a mask, monitor how we feel, and the surfaces we touch. And we need to clean more often.

Along with cleaning, we may need to go the extra step and sanitize or disinfect. Now you know the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting and when it’s appropriate to disinfect or just sanitize your home.

Sanitize your home regularly and disinfect when you need to. If you need to disinfect, be cautious when you do it so that you can keep your family and household safe.

Did you know there was a difference between sanitizing and disinfecting? Let us know in the comment section below.

Response to "Should you disinfect or sanitize your home?"

  • The world has certainly changed in 2020 and one thing that is actually a good thing is that people now seem to be a lot more aware and a lot more hygienic than in the past. I have a very specific procedure now when I come back from being outside or come from the shops.

    My shoes are left just inside the door as I come in. My clothes goes either on the floor or inside the washing machine as soon as I come in and I go shower immediately and wash my hair.

    In regards to shopping I make use of either a bleach/water solution to spray my shopping or use antibacterial gel to wipe all products before it goes into the refrigerator. After the procedure I do wash my hands also.

    • I agree. People seem to be changing their hygienic and cleaning habits for the better. Thanks for sharing your routine. It sounds like it is very healthy and hygienic.

  • You are spot on with this article.
    Sanitizing and disinfecting reduces infections and it has become so important now especially with the outbreak of covid19.

  • I’m glad I’ve come across your post, as it seems like I am sanitizing my home and regularly. I tend to use the more of natural (well almost) ingredients of white vinegar and a few drops dish liquid soap and essential oil (optional) in a spray bottle with tap water. It works wonders and keeps my home free from harsh chemicals too. I’ve even written a post about it. Natural is always the best.

    Looks like from the year 2020 we need to be more conscious about sanitizing.

    Please be safe everyone.

    Many Thank for sharing.

    • I’m glad you did too Habib. Natural, non-toxic products are the way to go when cleaning your home and sanitizing or disinfecting it.

  • Our lives are certainly different now and will be so for a long time …
    I live alone and I am not a great housewife ;-), but I realize that I have to clean more often. I have homemade spray solution made of alcohol and water which I use when I go out but also at home. I also like to use white vinegar for cleaning. I need to get more of a cleaning routine, though, I have never been good at it, it is very important now … Your article is providing me with many good tips!

  • Hi,
    this is a beautifully written article and you deserve full marks for it. I agreed with all the things you’ve mentioned in your post.

    The way you have explained how can we protect our home in this situation in different ways like going in for sensitization & disinfection is indeed great. And in this COVID situation, we should be careful with our cleaning otherwise people and their whole family can suffer a lot we should not take a risk and always sanitize our home.

    I think you would have a lot of people visiting your website and gaining from your experience and knowledge about the topic.

    Thanks,

    Aparna

  • I have been lucky enough to come across some Lysol spray recently and disinfecting wipes. I am very uptight about my house being clean. I can deal with clutter to a certain point with 4 kids, but it has to be clean clutter. We all work together to sanitize and disinfect surfaces around the house, and I clean my kitchen very well and often. I think more people need to be aware of this though. Given how hand soap and sanitizer has flown off the shelves after all of this, it makes me wonder if people ever even washed their hands before.

    • I’m glad you’re able to sanitize and disinfect your home. You’re right people do need to understand that it is important to sanitize on a regular basis and disinfect when necessary. Stay clean and safe.

  • As a retired health care worker and the grandmother of a type 1 diabetic, I am very aware of sanitizing and disinfecting. We do plenty of both around here not only because of the recent COVID-19 but because our grandson requires a relatively germ-free place to test blood sugars and adn=minister insulin injections when he is visiting. You explained the difference between the two clearly. I hope we all continue to be so vigilant in our personal and professional hygiene moving forward. It could lead to fewer colds and cases of flu as well. Take care and stay safe.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *