Keeping areas clean is important for our health. But this isn’t the same thing as disinfecting or sterilizing.

Disinfecting and sterilizing are both types of decontamination, a process that makes something safe to touch. The purpose is to kill enough germs so the risk of infection is extremely low.

Decontamination is different from cleaning, which can get rid of dust and dirt but may only remove some of the germs that are present.

It’s more important than ever to make sure you use the correct cleaning techniques for any job. Different locations, differently zoned areas, or specific worksites may require different types of cleaning. Make sure you understand the differences between disinfecting and sterilization.

Disinfecting VS. Sterilizing

You may hear the terms “disinfect,” “sterilize,” and even “sanitize” used interchangeably, but these aren’t the same thing.

All of these methods are antimicrobial processes that aim to kill germs to some degree. But there are key differences to understand before choosing which mode of decontamination is best in your situation.

Overall, sterilization is the most advanced form of decontamination, but disinfecting and sterilizing both kill more germs than sanitizing.

What to use Disinfecting For

The process of disinfecting removes harmful organisms from objects. This is usually done by applying chemical sprays or wipes.

One of the greatest advantages to disinfecting is the availability of products. It’s possible to find safe disinfectants nearly anywhere.

Depending on the type of disinfectant used, the product may need to be left on surfaces for as little as 20 minutes or as long as 12 hours.

What Disinfecting Kills

Disinfectants can kill most viruses and fungi, with the majority of commercial products also marketed as effective against the COVID-19 virus when used as directed.

While disinfectants can kill bacteria, they may not be able to treat bacterial spores, which lay dormant.

What to Use Sterilization For

Sterilization, on the other hand, is a process typically used by professionals in settings such as hospitals.

While disinfecting gets rid of most germs, sterilization removes all microorganisms — including those that aren’t harmful. Sterilization is common in medical facilities, but it may also be helpful for businesses and schools that want to get rid of germs in entire rooms.

Methods of Sterilization

  • pressurized steam (autoclaving)
  • hydrogen peroxide gas
  • ethylene oxide (EtO) gas
  • ionizing radiation (typically used for medical equipment)
  • dry heat cabinets (for medical instruments)
  • infrared radiation
  • advanced filtration

Differences Between Sterilizing and Sanitizing

Sanitizing is another method of removing dirt and killing germs that’s often confused with sterilizing.

While sterilization gets rid of all germs, sanitizing aims to lower the amount to a safe level. The process of sanitizing can involve both cleaning and disinfecting.

It’s also worth mentioning that while hand sanitizers may not eliminate all germs, they’re good to have on-hand until you have access to warm water and soap to properly wash your hands.

Illinois Environmental Contractors Association Resources

For more information on finding a local contractor, check the resources below:

If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our associates to find an answer to your situation. With more than 40 Illinois-licensed companies represented by IECA members, we believe that collective action through association is the most effective way to deal with the changing demands of doing business.

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