The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Ask ACI: What is the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing?


Cleaning: This involves removing unwanted contaminants, such as soil, dirt and grease, from a surface, material, or your hands. It’s usually what you’re doing when washing with soap and water. Cleaning along with rinsing and using a cloth or paper towel may remove some germs as well when they’re washed or wiped away.

Sanitizing: When sanitizing, you’re reducing (but not necessarily eliminating) the number of germs on the surface to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations.

Disinfecting: When disinfecting, on surfaces and objects you’re irreversibly inactivating pathogens (microorganisms that cause infections and disease) including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. For SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, this should be done using one of the products registered by the EPA for this use.  For a list of EPA-registered disinfectants that are expected to work on SARS-CoV-2, see EPA’s List N. Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19) or the Center for Biocide Chemistries’ Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)—Fighting Products list, which is a user-friendly list of the EPA approved disinfectants. 

Click here to see the EPA definitions of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting.