Cleaning vs Disinfecting

By: The Cleancult Team

July 24, 2018

We all want to live in a clean and safe indoor environment, right? But, as you know, there are degrees of “clean” and different requirements for what “clean” is, depending on the living space targeted. For example, when a “clean your room” chore is given to children, it generally refers to straightening up, picking up toys, organizing objects in the drawers, putting clothes in the closet, etc. Sometimes even dusting and vacuuming are involved. But that is definitely different from cleaning a bathroom, toilet, shower or kitchen where germs present a more obvious risk and a much deeper cleaning is both expected and necessary.

The Basics

To first understand which surfaces or areas we can spray and clean with an all purpose cleaner and which areas we should use disinfectant cleaning supplies on, we need to go over the definitions. What is cleaning and what is disinfecting?

Well, to put it simply, cleaning removes dirt, germs, and debris. However, disinfecting kills germs. Yep, stops them right on their track!

Image curtesy of: Charles Deluvio


Cleaning works by using either soap and water, an all purpose cleaner spray, a multi purpose detergent or even a homemade all purpose cleaner that you made with vinegar and lemon! This cleaning process physically removes germs from different surfaces. Although cleaning does not necessarily kill germs, it does lower their numbers by removing them from the surfaces you’re cleaning. This, in turn, reduces the risk of spreading infection, bacteria, diseases, and other germ-related dangers.

The ingredients in an All Purpose Cleaner make it suitable for this type of task. These types of detergents work perfectly well when cleaning table tops, glass, metal, some woods, plastics and any other surface you can think of.



Disinfecting works by using different chemicals to kill germs. Disinfectant cleaning supplies don’t, however, necessarily clean surfaces or remove dirt and debris although there are some cleaners that also disinfect surfaces.

By killing germs on a surface, disinfecting can further reduce or even eliminate the risk of infections, contamination, or harming. If disinfecting a surface is your goal at the moment, for example cleaning a counter that has just contacted raw meat or fish, then the order of how you do things is important: remember that cleaning always comes before disinfection!

First, clean the surface with an all purpose cleaner or a biodegradable all purpose cleaner or your detergent of choice. This step gets rid of any visible food or waste particles and removes germs that may have been lurking on the surface. Then, rinse the surface with regular tap water, dry, and then apply the disinfectant, per the directions on the bottle.

If you don’t have disinfectant at hand but need to kill germs on a surface right away, know that you can create a quick homemade disinfectant by just adding one-half tablespoon of regular household bleach to half a gallon of plain water. That’s it! You can use that solution to disinfect any surface on your house after it has been cleaned.

Which surfaces need disinfecting? Well, that’s entirely up to you. However, we recommend the constant cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces that come into constant contact with your hands or food, for example: computer keyboards in a school, tables, kitchen, shared desks at work, etc.

Since there usually are harmful chemicals in disinfectant cleaners, it’s a good idea to rinse or wipe with a clean damp cloth the surfaces or utensils that you have just disinfected.

That’s it. Nothing more to it, really. First clean...then disinfect.