difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting

When it comes to germs, the most effective steps to take are cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. What’s the difference? Based on Department of Public Health (DPH) guidelines, we define them as follows:


Cleaning is the process of removing soil from surfaces with a cloth or wipe and detergent, soap, or sanitizer. Cleaning does not kill or thoroughly remove bacteria or viruses from surfaces, but it is still essential. You should always clean before sanitizing and disinfecting because it improves the effectiveness of each process.

To clean hard surfaces, spray with Oxivir Five 16 and wipe/scrub using cloth towels whenever possible. (Note: if a surface is particularly dirty, you can also use soapy water as a first cleaning step without harmful interactions using Oxivir.)


Sanitizing (after cleaning) is the proper treatment for most equipment and surfaces in Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs. Sanitizing reduces germs to levels considered safe by public health codes and regulations. We sanitize using Oxivir Five 16 or using the Zono cabinet.


For fabric and mouthed toys, sanitize in the washing machine, dishwasher, or Zono.


After sanitizing with Oxivir, any surfaces that come into contact with food or a child’s mouth must be wiped, sprayed with water, and wiped again to rinse off any residue.


Disinfecting (after cleaning) is the proper treatment for surfaces or equipment where safe contact requires a more powerful response to germs (such as surfaces involved with toileting and diapering).

To disinfect, clean first and then spray hard nonfood contact surfaces with Oxivir Five 16 and allow to air dry (should remain wet for 5 minutes).