Difference Between Disinfection and Disinfection, According to the CDC

Everyone has different versions of “cleaning”. For some, the act includes Windex, bleach and a mop; for others, it means putting away toys, sweeping and loading the dishwasher. But while “cleaning” can mean everything from straightening to cleaning when it comes to disinfection and disinfection , the definitionsset by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are clearer. And since we are in the middle of the flu season when COVID Omicron cases are on the rise, it is important to understand the difference.

What is disinfection?

If the cleaning process removes food, dirt, organic matter and dust (and some germs) from surfaces with water and soap, disinfection is carried out after the debris has been removed. Sanitization, as defined by the CDC, reduces the number of germs and pathogens “to a safe level when judged by public health standards or requirements.” According to the Cornell Alliance for Product Safety , “disinfectants are generally considered part of a broader group of substances called antimicrobial pesticides.” (They also say, “You can’t sanitize a dirty surface. Cleaning always comes first.”)

Such disinfectants like this spray Lysol, reduce the amount of bacteria and viruses is 99.9% (with intended use). Disinfectants should always be applied according to label instructions and surfaces should air dry.

What is disinfection?

Disinfection goes further by killing microscopic organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi with EPA-approved chemicals. It is worth noting that, according to Medline Plus , “disinfection does not necessarily clean up dirty surfaces or remove germs.” But by killing them, it reduces the risk of spreading the infection.

However, keep in mind that, according to the EPA , “disinfectants can trigger an asthma attack.” (Disinfectants contain a higher concentration of bleach than disinfectants, making them more irritating to skin and respiratory function.) Make sure the area is well ventilated, do not use harsh disinfectants on children’s toys, and do not disinfect too often.

What should be disinfected and how often?

For optimal protection from germs, regular cleaning and disinfection of the most vulnerable areas of your home should be done daily or biweekly. Common surfaces such as countertops, remote controls, doorknobs, light switches, computer keyboards, faucet knobs, toilet seats, and other surfaces that come in contact with body fluids should be on the list for regular disinfection. Also, you will want to sanitize kitchen surfaces after cooking (especially if the cooking involves raw meat). It’s also a good idea to regularly reduce germs on the item you touch the most – your phone.

What should be disinfected and how often?

Disinfection should be done when someone in the house is ill or has a weakened immune system. CDC recommends that you read the label instructions carefully because “disinfection generally requires the product to remain on the surface for a specified period of time.” (For example, the back of the bottle of Clorox wipes says, “Use enough wipes on the treated surface to keep it visibly damp for four minutes.” Four minutes ? God, did we do it wrong.)

This brings us back to the first step. Cleaning. To protect yourself from user error or simple impatience when you spend four continuous minutes wiping away any germs in your home, always clean them with soap and water first. This process will at least remove some of the germs if it doesn’t kill them completely.


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