The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing & Disinfecting

A breakdown of everything you need to know about the three main steps in the commercial cleaning process:

When you hear the phrase “commercial cleaning,” what usually comes to mind? Chances are that you are thinking about three critical components:  

  1. Cleaning
  2. Disinfecting
  3. Sanitizing

It’s not uncommon for people to get these terms mixed up. Although these terms are usually used synonymously, there is a significant difference between the three. Yes, each of these elements are a part of the overall cleaning service, but there is a clear distinction that people need to be aware of.

Let’s start with the basics and break down the terms based on their dictionary definitions:

  • Cleaning: the act of making something clean
  • Disinfecting: to free from infection especially by destroying harmful microorganisms
  • Sanitizing: the act of altering something so that is more palatable

Now that we’ve defined what each component is, let’s break things down a little farther. Let’s take a deeper look at the contrasting differences between the three actions:


For starters, cleaning is the general removal of dirt, debris, and other particles from any surface area. This is usually the first step that professional janitors take during office cleaning procedures. During this phase, cleaning providers will use water, soap, detergents, hand scrubbers, and more sophisticated cleaning utensils to remove visible contaminants from any hard surface. Additionally, this is also the phase where any physical organization is conducted.


In essence, surface cleaning is what sets janitors up for the next phase in the infection control process.


Following the initial cleaning phase is sanitization. The sanitization phase is often referred to as a sterilization service. What this means is that is that you are taking an extra step to kill any microorganisms that live under the newly-cleaned surface. When you sanitize surface areas, you are taking a proactive step at preventing harmful pathogens from spreading across the facility. Commercial cleaners should always sterilize any surface area immediately following the initial cleaning procedure. This is especially true if there is any blood found among the surface area.


The final phase of a commercial cleaning procedure is usually disinfecting. Disinfection services expand on any prior sterilization efforts. This is the when professional janitors release disinfectants onto the surface area to kill any harmful microorganisms living within the work space. If there is a virus spreading around your office, this is a surefire step that puts an end to it. Disinfectants have been proven to kill nearly 100% of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in office environments.


Any high-trafficking areas should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis. This includes counter tops, desk spaces, sinks, toilets, or any other high-touch areas.

Partner With A Multi-Talented Commercial Janitorial Service

Continental Building Services is the leading source for commercial cleaning programs in New York City and other surrounding communities. We specialize in every aspect of the three-tiered cleaning process. We offer green cleaning programs to keep any office environment clean, safe, and comfortable for extended lengths of time.


Contact our experts to start taking advantage of this full-service solution. Give us a call today so you can schedule a free consultation.