Cleaning, disinfection, sterilization: what's the difference?

An essential part of management of a successful business is to maintain a clean environment. Whether you're keeping track of your cleanliness using a cleanliness checklist or scheduling, making sure your location is cleaned regularly can help keep your staff and customers healthy.

It is important to understand the different depths of cleaning to decide what method and practices you should take in your location to stop the spread of diseases and viruses. We will explore the differences between cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing so that you can better incorporate them into your cleaning regimen.

What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning Kitchen Sink

The main difference between cleaning and disinfection cleaning is the act of cleaning debris and deposits on a surface, while disinfection involves killing bacteria after the surface has already been cleaned.

When comparing cleaning to disinfection, you want to make sure that cleaning is done first, regardless of the surface, and that disinfection continues to be area dependent. Items that come into contact with food and are often touched need to be disinfected, whereas places like hallway floors and windows do not need to be disinfected regularly as they are considered low risk surfaces.


Cleaning something means removing all visible surface contamination, including dirt, spills, food particles, dust, etc., by washing, brushing or cleaning the area. This process is superficial and does not kill germs, but it can help reduce their number. This is expected to be the first step in the cleaning process. Common cleaning products include:

  • Soaps
  • Detergents
  • vacuums
  • Feather dusters
  • Degreasers
  • Glass cleaners


Disinfecting means reducing the amount of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi on a surface after it has been cleaned. The disinfectant used must reduce the amount of bacteria to the level that public health regulations consider safe. To meet CDC requirements, sanitizing chemicals must kill 99.999% of test bacteria in less than 30 seconds.

Although disinfection reduces the growth of harmful bacteria, it does not kill all viruses on a surface. Disinfection is intended to be used as a preventive measure and is an extremely important practice in restaurants, schools, corporate offices and hospitals. Every surface that comes into contact with food should be disinfected regularly, often several times a day.

Disinfect vs. sterilize

The difference between disinfecting and sterilizing is based on the amount of bacteria that each process eliminates. While disinfection claims to kill most germs, it cannot make antiviral claims. Disinfection is more powerful than disinfection and can kill almost 100% of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, while targeting microorganisms that carry specific diseases such as the influenza virus, norovirus, and coronavirus.

Because disinfection is more intense than disinfection, the disinfectant will often be used in areas with a vulnerable population, such as healthcare facilities and childcare facilities. Disinfection would suffice for food service items like tables and cutting boards, but a disinfectant would be needed for places like bathrooms and gyms.

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Disinfecting means killing viruses and specific pathogens on a surface using a disinfectant. These cleaning agents must kill 99.999% of infectious bacteria, viruses, and fungi within 5-10 minutes. Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces is recommended. Bathrooms should always be disinfected due to pathogens that these surfaces can harbor and that can lead to the spread of disease. Common disinfectants include:

  • Bleach
  • Alcohol
  • Chlorine

Difference between sterilizing and disinfecting

Although the terms are used interchangeably, there are differences between disinfection and sterilization. Disinfection removes almost 100% of viruses and bacteria on surfaces, while sterilization will kill all viruses, bacteria, fungi, and bacterial spores in one item.

While disinfection is useful in most settings and on surfaces that are regularly touched, sterilization is generally only reserved for instruments used in medical facilities and hospital settings.


Sterilizing an item means completely eradicating microbes on its surface, including bacterial spores, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Health care facilities rely heavily on the sterilization of food, medicine, and equipment to prevent wound infections and the spread of disease from one patient to another. Some methods can be used to sterilize products:

  • Chemical products
  • Steam
  • Heat
  • Radiation

What is the correct way to disinfect a table that has been used to prepare food?

Follow these steps to disinfect a table that has been used to prepare food:

Chef Cleaning in the Kitchen

  1. Clean: The surface of any visible residue.
  2. Rinse: The surface with soap and clean water. Do not use high pressure washers that may end up spraying bacteria over a larger area.
  3. Disinfect: the surface with food-grade disinfectant. Rinse the disinfectant if necessary according to the chemist's instructions.
  4. Allow the surface to air dry for a minimum of 30 seconds to one minute to allow the disinfectant to work. Use this time to implement a clean break if your location requires that food preparation be documented in batches and time shifts.

Because of the ease with which bacteria can transfer into food and cause disease, proper disinfection practices are very necessary in food environments. restaurants. It is important to use disinfection methods in your kitchen restaurant to clean tables, cutting boards and utensils for prevent cross contamination This can cause food poisoning and allergic reactions.

What to disinfect?

The general rule of thumb is that if an item comes into contact with food, it must be disinfected. Here are common items that will need to be disinfected regularly in your kitchen:

  • Chopping boards
  • Work tables
  • Pots and pans
  • Serving utensils
  • Countertops
  • Kitchen equipment

When to disinfect?

Your health inspector will look for proper cleaning and disinfection practices on your restaurant. Follow the steps below to know when to disinfect in your kitchen:

  • Every time you are done with a food preparation task
  • Every time you switch between types of food and ingredients
  • If your task is interrupted, forcing you to move away from the station
  • Every 4 hours

How to disinfect

For frequently touched surfaces, follow these steps to properly disinfect them:

  1. Read the disinfectant label you plan to use to make sure you understand the instructions for that product.
  2. Clean The surface of any visible residue.
  3. Rinse the surface with soap and clean water. For knobs and handrails, use general-purpose cleaning wipes.
  4. Disinfect the surface with its disinfectant following the instructions of the product. Leave the disinfectant on the surface for 3-5 minutes or as long as the product requires.
  5. Rinse the surface disinfectant if the product requires it.

What to disinfect

Here are some items in your facility that need to be disinfected regularly:

  • Light switches
  • Door handles
  • Elevator buttons
  • Railing
  • Bathroom surfaces
  • Faucet handles
  • Computer keyboards and mice
  • The telephones

When to disinfect

Disinfection hours may vary depending on your facilities and the number of guests in your establishment. The following are some suggested times when disinfection should be performed:

  • At least once a day
  • Most often during cold and flu seasons
  • Most often during a virus outbreak
  • Whenever body fluids are on a surface

Do disinfecting wipes kill viruses?

Because sanitizing wipes have shorter residence times than most sanitizing chemicals, there is concern that they may not have enough time to kill viruses on a surface. The key to successfully disinfecting a surface is reading the details of the cleaning wipes you choose to use. To confidently target viruses such as norovirus, influenza, rhinovirus, and coronavirus, the CDC recommends using disinfectant wipes that contain at least 60% alcohol.

Prevent diseases


While cleaning, disinfection and disinfection are essential parts of the food safety guidelines in restaurants To prevent illness, there are additional practices that you and your employees can take to maintain a clean and healthy work environment.

Here are some disease prevention methods that you can implement in your restaurant:

  • Clean visibly dirty surfaces immediately
  • Use hands-free dispensers, water taps, and trash cans.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning dirty surfaces or during food preparation (Do not touch other surfaces during homework)
  • Discard the cleaning wipes and paper towels used to clean the surfaces immediately after completing the task.
  • Use clean water to mop when you change rooms or when the water is visibly dirty
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water after using the bathroom, between changing tasks, after sneezing or touching dirty tissues.
  • Keep staff members home when they are sick.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when sneezing or coughing, then throw it away immediately

CDC Recommendations for Coronavirus

In protecting your business from COVID-19, here are some of the CDC's recommendations.

  • Clean frequently touched surfaces several times a day with disinfectants or disinfectants.
  • Make sure you and your employees wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • If soap is not available, use a disinfectant that contains 60% alcohol or more and rub your hands together until they feel dry.
  • Do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose with your unwashed hands.
  • Enforce social distancing when possible if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This may mean closing non-essential businesses or transforming your location to offer only pickup / drive services. Reduce your staff to essential staff only.
  • Stay home or keep employees home for 2 weeks if they have flu-like symptoms.

When different cleaning practices are compared, the amount of bacteria will decrease as you progress from cleaning to disinfection, to finally eradicate completely with sterilization. The only way to ensure that your cleaning program is successful is to provide your staff members with the proper training and guidelines. You can choose to hire a cleaning service for your restaurant to make your business a healthy place for your customers and employees.

I am a dreamer and in my dreams I believe that a better world is possible, that no one knows more than anyone, we all learn from everyone. I love gastronomy, numbers, teaching and sharing all the little I know, because by sharing I also learn. "Let's all go together from foundation to success"
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