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In the space of facility maintenance, people bump up against confusion and misuse of the words cleaners, sanitisers and disinfectants. Something that confuses them, even more, is that some products are made of two or more of the above. For example, Sani-Spritz Spray is a disinfectant cleaner while N601+ is a disinfectant and a food service sanitiser.

So, what are the differences between the three types of products? Summarily, sanitisers reduce or kill bacteria on the surface by around 99.9% while disinfectants kill a very wide range of microorganisms. Cleaners only remove soils, dirt and impurities from the surface.

Here are the main differentiating factors.


Both disinfectants and sanitisers are tested against particular germs. Each chemical label has to list the germs they kill individually. For example, a disinfectant must kill X and Y germs while another one kills Y and Z germs.

You must understand that a standalone disinfectant or sanitiser will never kill all microorganisms and you should, therefore, know the germs you are planning to kill with the product. sanitisers are usually certified for bacteria alone but disinfectants can be certified to kill mould, viruses, mildew and fungi.

EPA Certification

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the organisation that regulates both disinfectants and sanitisers, so, each of the two has to be certified through processes that test them to meet the predetermined criteria. It is unlawful for a company to label a product as a disinfectant or sanitiser before it is EPA certified.

Some companies, like Nyco, register their products as both so that they are known as disinfectant-sanitiser. Our Evolve Cleaning team will help you differentiate the good disinfectants and sanitisers from the bad ones.

Time to kill

The time a product will take to kill germs is another important factor in the evaluation of both disinfectants and sanitisers and the producer has to list it on the label of the product. Some formulas are likely to kills germs within 5 minutes but others will do that in less than one minute.

That is known as the dwell time and you should consider it when selecting and using a disinfectant or sanitiser for various home applications. A quick example, Table Time 200 products eliminate 99.99% of bacteria within one minute.

Which product should I use?

Use sanitisers on items or surfaces that might be exposed to food or mouths. That includes the things your children or babies might place in their mouths or the products you might use in your kitchen or those used to serve food. They include:

  • Pacifiers
  • Toys for your babies or children
  • Utensils
  • Dishes
  • Cutting boards

Use disinfectants on surfaces that are unlikely to be exposed to mouths and might contain very harmful bacteria that you want to eliminate from your home. Remember to read the label of the disinfecting solution before you use it to be sure that it can eliminate your target bacteria. Some of the surfaces that demand the use of a disinfectant include:

  • Bathroom floors
  • Hospital beds, stretchers and floors
  • Baby changing tables
  • Toilets

Sanitisers are highly used in foodservice settings – not a must. Any product labelled as “food contact sanitiser” is used when cleaning surfaces that will touch food afterwards. When using food contact sanitisers, you have to apply them according to the instructions of the producer and allow them to dry completely before they get into contact with food.

In contrast with disinfectants and sanitisers, cleaners represent a very wide range of products that use detergents or soap to remove soil and dirt from surfaces physically. Cleaning will not kill any germs but will remove them from the surfaces. The market offers a cleaner for every surface such as floors, carpets and boats. EPA does not regulate or test cleaners for effectiveness, so you should expect different strengths and qualities of cleaners.

If you are the person in charge of maintaining the health and safety of doctors, patients, visitors and staff in a hospital, you should be aware of the products to use. If you run a kitchen, which serves food to many people each day or you want to ensure that your kitchen or home is safe for your family. Commercial offices are no different. It is important that your office space is using the right products when performing a commercial office clean.

Regardless of the facility, you want to clean, you must protect the users from the harmful bacteria. Any toxic or harsh chemical should not get into contact with food. Understanding the difference between disinfectant, sanitisers and cleaners will help you keep your facility safe and healthy.

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Jennifer Price

Jennifer Price

Jennifer Price is the Client Happiness Manager at Evolve Cleaning. She dedicates herself to managing healthy business relationships while prioritising her client's commercial cleaning interests are met with each and every clean. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she lives and breathes cleanliness, hygiene, sustainability and has a huge love for dogs.