Sanitizer vs Disinfectant & How to Kill Microorganisms

May 01 2020

Many people confuse disinfectants and sanitizers. After all, we use them both while cleaning, and sometimes we just use one rather than the other. Yet, do you know what the difference is? To help you understand, check out these two definitions:

Sanitizer: A chemical that reduces the number of disease-causing bacteria on an inanimate object and kills 99.999% of bacteria.

Disinfectant: A chemical that frees hard-surface, inanimate objects from infection by destroying certain types of microorganisms. However, disinfectants don’t kill all microorganisms (such as those with bacterial spores).

Now that you know the basic definitions of disinfectant and sanitizer, let’s dig deeper into how disinfectants and sanitizers kill microorganisms.

Where Do We Use Sanitizers and Disinfectants?

cleaning supplies


Sanitizers are used in places that come in contact with food.

  • Kitchen counter tops
  • Flatware, glasses, and other dishes
  • Food preparation equipment
  • Utensils
  • Pots, pans, baking sheets
  • Low-temperature dishwashers


Disinfectants are typically not applied to surfaces that come in contact with food.

  • Floors, walls, and ceilings
  • Toilets, showers, and bathtubs
  • Chairs and bed frames
  • Kitchen and bathroom Sinks

What Do Sanitizers and Disinfectants Kill?

cleaning the counter top

Sanitizers Kill…

Sanitizers kill bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses, like

  • Salmonella typhimurium
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • E. coli

Disinfectants Kill…

Unlike sanitizers, disinfectant labels must tell you which microorganisms the product kills and has been tested against. Generally, disinfectants are used to combat

  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Viruses

Disinfectants are not used to kill bacterial spores, which are bacteria that has grown an outer shell. To kill bacterial spores, a sterilant needs to be used. A sterilant can kill all microorganisms, but it isn’t readily available in your local store as it isn’t a cleaning product. It’s only sold by medical supply houses.

Does Contact Time Matter When Applying Sanitizers and Disinfectants?

cleaning a wall

Absolutely! You can’t just spray the chemical and wipe it away the very next second. You must be patient. As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention points out, the duration of exposure can have a big impact on the effectiveness of sanitizers and disinfectants. They say that longer contact times are more effective than shorter contact times.

How long should that contact time be? Sanitizers should be left on the surfaces they’re sprayed on for at least one minute in order to be fully effective. Certain items like dishwashing machines may require more time. For disinfectants, always check the label in order to know how long the chemical should be left on the surface. Normally, you should let disinfectants sit for ten minutes before wiping them away.

Check Out Our Infographic to Help You Remember!

sanitizer vs disinfectant

Need Professional Sanitization Services?

At Rapid Restoration, we understand how crucial it is to restore the health of your home or business. That’s why we offer sanitization services to help combat against viruses:

  • Large-scale room/building surface and air decontamination via Antimicrobial ULV Fogging.
  • Large-scale surface decontamination via Antimicrobial Spray Application.
  • Targeted area-specific or large-scale surface decontamination via Antimicrobial Wipe-down.

With COVID-19 pandemic affecting the entire world, keeping your living and workspace virus-free is an integral part of keeping the people you care about safe and healthy. Disinfectants and sanitizers will help, but professional sanitization can help ease the concern.

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