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4 Key Differences Between Sanitising and Disinfecting

difference between sanitizing disinfecting and cleaning

In the first two parts of ‘What’s the Difference Between Sanitising and Disinfecting’, we elaborated on the main features of sanitising and disinfecting. We explained that both processes—therefore, both sanitisers and disinfectants—differ in their effectiveness against different microorganisms. In this article, however, we compare and contrast sanitising and disinfecting while highlighting their individual differences against each other. 

Effectiveness Standards

disinfection vs sanitization

Sanitising and disinfecting are two methods to reduce the presence of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes on a surface. While sanitising decreases the number of microorganisms, disinfectants are more effective as they contain chemicals like hydrogen peroxide that produce destructive free radicals. These radicals attack cell components and kill almost all the microbes present on a surface or object.

Sanitisers are useful in reducing bacterial presence on surfaces by around 99.9%. They are primarily effective against bacteria, but their efficacy against viruses or fungi is limited. On the other hand, disinfectants are more potent and capable of eliminating a broader spectrum of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. They have a higher kill rate, often eradicating up to 99.9999% of germs, making them more effective than sanitisers in dealing with various types of pathogens.

Killing Illness Spreading Germs

While sanitisers like chlorine and QUAT-based sanitisers can help reduce the number of germs on a surface, they may not necessarily kill them. However, by lowering the total number of germs present, sanitisers can still help prevent the spread of illness by reducing the risk of infection. Disinfectants, in contrast, are designed to destroy or inactivate a broader range of germs on surfaces and objects. Due to their potent nature, they are primarily used for surface usage rather than for hands, as sanitisers are effective in lowering the number of germs to a safe level.


  • One-step disinfectant and cleaner. 
  • Professional formulation recommended for surface cleaning and disinfection in medical, food, industrial, offices, and childcare. 
  • Reduce viral contaminations. 
  • Leaves a fresh scent. 
  • Ideal for everyday cleaning and disinfecting: toilets, rubbish bins, microwaves, working surfaces, countertops, tables, fridges, etc. 
  • No-rinse.

Sanitisers and Disinfectants Application

should I sanitize or disinfect
Sanitisers and disinfectants serve distinct purposes based on their contact time and application. Sanitisers, known for their rapid action, are frequently applied to surfaces exposed to food, such as kitchen counters or dining tables, as they work swiftly and necessitate shorter contact times to effectively eliminate germs. 
However, disinfectants require more extended contact periods to efficiently sterilise surfaces. They find predominant use in environments demanding heightened sterilisation levels, like hospitals, laboratories, or bathrooms, where thorough germ eradication is crucial, and a longer contact time is warranted for comprehensive sanitation.

When to Sanitise or Disinfect

It is important to regularly sanitise hard, non-porous surfaces to prevent spreading bacteria that can cause illness. Such surfaces should be routinely cleaned in places such as schools, childcare centres, public transit, and high-touch areas at home. Businesses that deal with food should also make it a common practice to sanitise hard, non-porous surfaces that come in contact with food to prevent the spread of illness. It is especially important to sanitise surfaces in the kitchen at home after handling raw meat. In childcare or education settings, regular disinfection is required for surfaces used for diaper changing, toilet training, or cleaning up accidents involving bodily fluids. However, note that sanitisers can be used on both hands as well as surfaces. 

Type of Surfaces

Using disinfectants is recommended when dealing with larger messes or frequently touched areas such as doorknobs, toilet handles, and sinks. However, when it comes to countertops, things can get complicated. If you are using these surfaces for food preparation, it is best to sanitise them instead of using disinfectants to avoid any potential harm from chemical residue.


Food Surfaces Cleaner & Sanitizer
RINCON is a foaming, sanitizing detergent formulated to effectively clean and disinfect surfaces in food areas. 
RINCON is formulated with a blend of detergents, sequestrants and quaternary ammonium compounds specially selected to be effective against a wide range of microorganisms for maximum hygiene. 

A Note About Sanitisers

Food service settings commonly use sanitisers, but they can also be used in other areas. Products labelled as “food contact” sanitisers are safe to use on surfaces that will have contact with food. For best results, it’s important to follow the instructions provided and allow the sanitiser to dry completely before allowing food to come in contact with the surface.

Sanitising and Disinfecting Contact Time

what is the definition of contact time
Sometimes called “dwell time,” ‘Contact Time’ plays an important part in the sanitation and disinfection process. It is defined by how long a disinfectant or a sanitiser must stay wet on a surface to do its job effectively. 
Sanitisers usually require a shorter contact time, often around 30 seconds to a minute, to effectively kill most germs. Whereas, disinfectants require a longer contact time to work effectively. The contact time for disinfectants can vary widely depending on the specific product and the pathogens it is intended to kill. It can range from a few minutes to 10 minutes or more.
Note that it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the product label regarding the appropriate contact time for both sanitisers and disinfectants.
It’s important to note that certain products may be labelled for both purposes. However, it’s always best to double-check the product label or technical data sheet for specifics on contact times and concentrations, as they can vary. Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure that the surface being treated remains wet for the recommended duration, especially in low-humidity environments. In some cases, products with a 10-minute contact time may require reapplication at intervals to achieve the desired log reduction.

Chemical Composition

chemical disinfection

Sanitisers feature chlorine or alcohol-based solutions, which make them effective in fighting bacteria. However, their ability to combat certain viruses or fungi may be limited. On the other hand, disinfectants contain stronger compounds such as peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, quaternary ammonium compounds, or phenolic compounds. These disinfectants are more powerful and can effectively kill a wider range of pathogens than sanitisers. It is important to note that some sanitisers also contain QAC.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Disinfectant and Sanitiser

Sanitiser: Advantages vs Disadvantages

Sanitiser Advantages

Application: hand hygiene, food handling, quick surface disinfection
Speed: Provides rapid microbial reduction action and fast drying.
Mildness: Generally are milder and less corrosive, making them suitable for use on skin and certain surfaces.
Convenience: Ideal for immediate hand hygiene.

Sanitiser Limitations

Disinfectants: Advantages vs Disadvantages

Disinfectant Advantages

Applications: Healthcare settings, environmental control.
public spaces,
Comprehensive Disinfection: Has a broader spectrum, capable of eliminating various pathogens.
Versatility: Can be used in diverse settings, from healthcare facilities to public spaces
Longer Residual Activity: Provide extended protection by remaining active on surfaces for a longer duration.

Disinfectant Limitations

Conclusion: Sanitising and Disinfecting

In this article, we dissect the distinct roles and functionalities of sanitising and disinfecting. Both methods serve to reduce microbial presence on surfaces, yet their effectiveness and application vary significantly. Sanitisers excel in reducing bacteria, though their efficacy against viruses and fungi remains limited. Conversely, disinfectants, armed with potent compounds like hydrogen peroxide or quaternary ammonium compounds, wield a broader spectrum of germicidal power, eradicating diverse pathogens. Understanding their divergent contact times, chemical compositions, and suitable surfaces is pivotal for informed usage. While sanitisers mitigate germ spread, especially in food-related settings, disinfectants are indispensable in spaces necessitating rigorous sterilisation. Adhering to manufacturers’ guidelines on contact time and surface suitability is crucial, ensuring optimal effectiveness in combating microbial threats for a safer, healthier environment.

Help With Re-evaluating Your Disinfection Protocol?
Detailed guidelines for disinfection norms to aid in choosing the right disinfectant solution.
disinfection ultimate buying guide
disinfection ultimate buying guide

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The guide lists disinfection norms, terminology, and recommended products.