Sanitizing and disinfecting are often used interchangeably in articles and discussions about keeping one’s home or workplace clean and free from viruses and bacteria. Both imply eliminating disease-causing pathogens. However, there are stark differences between the terms mean and how they are achieved.

Below, we delve into the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting and provide tips and best practices for office applications.

Sanitize vs. Disinfect: What’s the Difference?

The Short Answer

Sanitizing reduces the number of bacteria quickly, lowering infection risk. Disinfecting kills more germs, including viruses and fungi, but usually takes longer. Both methods are different in their effectiveness and time needed.

Let’s begin with the definitions.

The most significant distinction between sanitization and disinfection is their goals.


Sanitizing an object means reducing the number of bacteria on its surface. It doesn’t completely eliminate bacteria but kills enough to lower the contamination and bring it down to a safer level, according to public health standards.


Disinfecting something means killing everything on its surface. The goal of disinfection is to eliminate all germs and bacteria. Disinfection is born from the belief that contamination by any degree is bad for one’s health and that killing all viruses and bacteria is the safest option.

Here are other characteristics that distinguish sanitize vs. disinfect:

Sanitizing uses milder formulations. Disinfecting uses harsh, strong-smelling chemicals.

Sanitizing products are often marketed for hand use. Disinfecting products are often marketed for cleaning objects and hard surfaces like floors and walls.

Now that we got the definitions down, let’s discuss their applications.

When Should You Sanitize vs. Disinfect?

Sanitizing is most appropriate for topical applications, particularly hand sanitization. It is also best for items that don’t typically come into contact with hazardous bacteria or viruses. Finally, sanitization is best for things you use to prepare, cook, and serve food. Sanitizers don’t contain strong chemicals that could adversely affect people’s health, unlike disinfectants that might leave behind traces of harsh chemicals.

Here are some examples of things you can sanitize:

  • Children’s toys
  • Plates, glasses, cutlery
  • Cooking pots and pans
  • Ladles, spatulas, tongs, etc.
  • Serving trays
  • Chopping boards
  • Bread boxes, cookie jars, bottles for preserves
  • Kitchen counter or food prep area
  • Rubber play mats
  • Milk bottles and pacifiers
  • Other items in a nursery

Disinfecting is best for things and surfaces that are often exposed to bacteria, viruses, and germs and, therefore, need something stronger to kill them. It is also ideal when cleaning up huge messes like flood water, sewer line leaks, backed-up or overflowing toilets, and spilled bodily fluids like blood, bile, urine, and fecal matter.

Here are examples of surfaces and objects that should be disinfected:

  • Toilets
  • Bathroom floors, walls, and sinks
  • Kitchen floors and sinks
  • Entryways
  • Basement or bedroom floors

Notice that these examples are all hard surfaces that can withstand harsh chemicals. If you think it’s necessary to disinfect clothing, shoes, linens, furniture, and other non-hard surfaces, look for disinfectants formulated specifically for those items. You might damage your belongings if you use an all-purpose disinfectant like bleach and don’t know how to dilute it to safe levels.

Sanitization and Disinfection in the Workplace: Why Is It Important?

After learning the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting, let’s briefly talk about its importance.

Whether you’re working in an office, manufacturing facility, healthcare facility, food service establishment, etc., sanitization and disinfection are necessary. It is crucial in enclosed offices in big buildings with centralized ventilation and air conditioning. The air quality in dirty offices deteriorates quickly, and the unclean air can easily spread to the other rooms and floors. Worse, viruses and bacteria can breed in unclean offices. When that happens, illness can spread throughout the workforce, ultimately affecting your business.

Business owners, executives, and building administrators are responsible for providing employees with a clean, safe, and comfortable environment to work in. Cleanliness positively impacts employees’ health, enabling them to be productive and deliver their best work.

A study by the University of Arizona has shown that office cleanliness can improve employee productivity by 15%. People who work in a clean and tidy environment also take fewer sick days off and can focus better on their work than those who work in unclean, unsanitized offices. These long-term benefits are worth spending more time and resources to keep your office clean and sanitized.

Tips for Sanitizing Your Office

To effectively clean and sanitize your office, you only need people who can commit their time to perform simple tasks every day. Of course, you also need to invest in quality cleaning materials and sanitization products.

Here are some tips on how to sanitize your office and keep it clean as much as possible throughout the day:

  • Provide hand sanitizing stations at the entrances. If you have a smaller office, placing hand sanitizer dispensers in the receiving area, receptionist’s desk, pantry, conference rooms, and other common areas would be cheaper but just as effective.
  • Designate cleaning days in your office and make sure everyone knows the date and time. Employees should know they are expected to clear their desks of personal items and valuables before the cleaning crew arrives.
  • If you can’t hire a cleaning crew, implement housekeeping rules like no food at the desk and asking employees to use spill-proof tumblers for their coffee and drinks.
  • Provide cleaning materials like sanitizing wipes, microfiber cloths, and desk sanitizing products.
  • Set expectations with your employees about keeping their work areas clean. This also explains the need to always keep cleaning materials in stock.
  • Provide trash bins for every cubicle. If you have an open floor plan, you can place large, lidded trash bins throughout the floor.
  • Post-sanitizing guidelines that employees can follow. Here’s an example:

Step-by-step Guide for Sanitizing Your Work Desk

  1. Turn off all electronics or sanitize your desk before you turn on your computer for the day. Unplug them if possible to avoid accidental electric shocks.
  2. Remove all clutter from your desk and throw out the trash.
  3. Remove all or as many items from your desk as possible.
  4. Wipe your desk with a dry cloth to remove dust and loose dirt stuck on the corners where the desk and cubicle wall meet (for desks with built-in dividers).
  5. Spray the sanitizing liquid on the desk or pour a small amount into a cloth. Wipe the entire surface of the table in circular motions, from one end to the other.
  6. Use the same sanitizing products or alcohol-based, antibacterial wipes on your desktop computer’s sides and back, as well as your CPU, UPS, printer, and other large electronics, before putting them back on your desk.
  7. If you’re using a traditional keyboard, hold it over a trash bin and shake off the dust and debris stuck between the keys. Sanitize the keys after with a damp towel or antibacterial wipes.
  8. Use antibacterial wipes on your desk phone, pens, calculators, scissors, staplers, tape dispensers, etc.
  9. Return all materials to your desk and organize them properly.
  10. Keep a pack of disinfecting wipes easily within reach.

How To Disinfect Your Office

Disinfecting your office can take longer and require more elbow grease. It’s best entrusted to experienced janitors and custodians who know how to handle disinfecting chemicals properly and safely.

Here are some tips on how to disinfect your office:

  • Schedule disinfection and deep cleaning on the weekends so cleaners have more room to move around and clean without interrupting anyone working.
  • If your in-house janitors do the work, purchase EPA-approved disinfecting products and quality cleaning supplies like steam vacuum cleaners, mops, cleaning cloths, buckets with wringers, long-handled brooms, soft wash brushes, squeegees (for cleaning glass partitions and windows), and microfiber scrubbers.
  • Create a schedule on when to disinfect your office floors. Here’s an example:
Daily bathrooms and pantry
Weekly main work floor (for open-plan offices), conference rooms, the hallway outside your office
Monthly hardwood floors

hard-to-reach areas like under the couch and behind heavy filing cabinets.

Janitors can do basic cleaning and sanitization between the scheduled disinfection days. Regular cleaning will also make disinfection easier and faster because the surroundings are already relatively clean.

Finally, here are a few reminders for the janitors or staff disinfecting your office: 

  • Disinfecting products contain strong chemicals that may be unsafe to inhale or exhale.
  • Always check user instructions and follow the safety guidelines to avoid accidents.
  • Wear protective gear like a spray painting mask, gloves, and goggles if recommended.

Get Superior Sanitization and Disinfection From Town House Specialty Cleaning

There’s a lot of emphasis on cleaning at home, but sanitizing and disinfecting offices where we spend eight to nine hours a day is also necessary. Hopefully, after learning the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting, you can do both effectively in your office and ensure a safe environment for you and your colleagues. 

If you don’t have the time, skills, or staffing to sanitize and disinfect your offices, you can leave it in the hands of our professional cleaning team. 

Town House Specialty Cleaning has been a trusted name in office cleaning and disinfection since 1969. We have OSHA-certified cleaning specialists and offer a comprehensive disinfection service for offices. Our turnkey, specialty janitorial services are highly rated and can satisfy the highest standards for cleanliness. 

Contact us to learn more about our services and get a free estimate.