Cleaning and sanitizing are two distinctly different activities with different results. Eliminating potentially harmful germs is becoming vital for staying healthy. With so many incidences of cross-contamination from mishandling of raw meats and other contaminated foods on the rise, people are becoming more keenly aware of the need for cleanliness. It’s important to understand the difference between cleaning and sanitizing because simple cleaning is in most cases, not enough to protect humans from becoming sick from the transfer of pathogens. Here are the facts about sanitizing and cleaning including the differences between the two, and the circumstances when one is recommended over the other.
The differences between cleaning and sanitizing
Cleaning is the process of removing surface particles from a surface. For example, wiping down a range, a countertop, or rinsing debris from a dinner plate. Basic cleaning removes the bulk of matter from a surface or item, but it doesn’t kill all of the germs. In many cases, it simply transfers hard to kill contaminants around the surface as you wipe. Sanitizing is a more involved process that involves a four-step method for reducing the number of harmful pathogens from a surface. There are no shortcuts and each step is vital for achieving the desired effect of making the surface safe to touch without transferring germs. Sanitizing is most commonly recommended for surfaces that come into contact with food. This is a requirement for the handling of consumable food products.
The common misunderstanding of cleaning and sanitizing
Cleaning and sanitizing are not interchangeable terms because they are two separate processes. In a time when there are deadly strains of influenza and other viruses and bacterial infections on the rise, it is important to make certain that everyone knows that neither cleaning nor sanitation is guaranteed to kill influenza or other viruses that can be left on surfaces. If you want to eliminate these pathogens, you must disinfect the surfaces.
The benefits of cleaning
Not everything needs to be sanitized or disinfected. Cleaning goes a long way towards keeping an environment healthy for the people inside. Cleaning cuts down on the number of microorganisms and allergens on surfaces, which helps to make the environment healthier for occupants. For example, people with allergies are likely to notice improvements in symptoms after cleaning that removes allergens such as dust, pet hair and dander, and so forth.
Shortcomings of cleaning
While cleaning may make surfaces look better it doesn’t get rid of all of the things that can potentially cause illness. When you mop a floor with a bucket of soapy water, you spread the germs over the surface of the floor, unless the mop water contains a germicide. The same is true for wiping down surfaces with a weak cleaning solution or a dirty sponge or cloth that has been used for cleaning other surfaces.
The benefits of sanitizing
When the sanitization process is done correctly, it decreases the number of bacteria on surfaces by 99.9 percent. It reduces the number of pathogens as well, but it does not kill viruses that may lurk on surfaces for several days or even weeks. Sanitizing help, but it offers no guarantees of protection from certain infectious disease transmission. Sanitization can prevent foodborne illnesses and it is particularly important when preparing foods in the kitchen. Many electric dishwashers offer a sanitization mode.
How to effectively clean
Rinsing in warm water can help to loosen particles that need to be removed. Use an effective detergent to further loosen soil and particles. It penetrates the soil and helps to release it from the surface. Greasy surfaces require the use of solvent-based cleaners that are designed to dissolve the grease for easier removal of the grease, soil, and residual film. Abrasive cleaners are used for cleaning compatible surfaces that have heavy accumulations or deposits. Some copper, steel wool, or other materials are also helpful. Acid cleaners are used to remove mineral deposits but must be handled with caution to avoid injury to lungs, skin, and eyes. After removing particles with cleansers or other cleaning products, the surface should be rinsed with clean water and dried.
The steps for sanitizing with the heat method
- Step 1: Cleaning – Prior to sanitizing a surface, it needs to be cleaned using the most appropriate method listed above.
- Step 2: Rinsing – After cleaning, use clean hot water to rinse the items you will sanitize. This removes all residue from detergents or other cleaners.
- Step 3: You may use a dishwasher that has a certified sanitization mode to heat the contents to a temperature that sanitizes everything inside by heating to a level that removes most pathogens.
Using the chemical method
If you choose to use the chemical method, step 2 involves soaking the items to be sanitized in a chemical sanitizing solution, then placing them on a clean dry towel or clean surface. The most common chemicals used are iodine and quaternary ammonium and chlorine. We recommend purchasing sanitizing solutions instead of attempting to mix your own.
- Step 4: Allow airing dry – After completing the 3 steps for sanitizing do not dry the items with towels or paper towels. They must be allowed to air dry to avoid introducing new pathogens that could exist in the towels.
While cleaning and sanitizing are two processes that go hand in hand, they are not the same. Not everything in your home needs to be sanitized in order for you to have a healthy environment. While everything should be kept clean, surfaces used in food preparation, to store food, or utensils, plates, bowls, cups, and glasses that come into contact with pathogens should be sanitized. Knowing the difference between the two can help you to avoid unnecessary work, but it can also help you to determine how to know which surfaces need to be sanitized. Follow the steps that are required for each process to live a healthier life and avoid many of the common illnesses that are transmitted through contaminated surfaces.