Cleaning and Disinfecting

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A lot of the guidance around preventing spread of COVID-19 says to clean and disinfect surfaces. But what does that mean? Are cleaning and disinfecting different? What about sanitizing or sterilizing?

Those are all important questions, and the answer is yes, they are all different. It is important to use the right steps in the right order, especially when trying to prevent the spread of illness.

Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting

Cleaning removes residues (soil or organic material) from a surface using soap or detergent and water. Cleaning must occur first, since many chemical sanitizers and disinfectants won’t work if a surface is dirty.

Sanitizing surfaces reduces the number of bacteria and viruses to a safer level. Sanitizing can be done with heat chemicals, and it is important to follow manufacturer directions carefully, as concentration and time on a surface are really important to reducing bacteria and viruses.

Disinfecting reduces the levels of bacteria and viruses even more than sanitizing, and may require higher concentrations of chemical compound or a longer contact time. Note: not all disinfectants are safe for food contact surfaces. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Sterilizing is the removal of all bacteria and viruses, and usually requires high heat and pressure. This isn’t usually possible for most surfaces in most environments, and is essential most often for medical equipment. 

For more details, check out this infosheet on cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfection, and follow us on social media as we talk cleaning and disinfection this weekend. Follow @SafePlatesFSIC on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

go.ncsu.edu/covid-19

Written By

Mary Yavelak, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionMary YavelakExtension Associate Email Mary Agricultural & Human Sciences
NC State Extension, NC State University

Contributing Author

Natalie Seymour, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionNatalie SeymourExtension Associate Email Natalie Agricultural & Human Sciences
NC State Extension, NC State University
Posted on Apr 18, 2020
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