Understanding the Difference Between Cleaning & Sanitising (full guide)

Maintaining a clean and hygienic environment is crucial for the well-being of individuals, especially in shared spaces like workplaces. However, it’s essential to recognize the distinction between cleaning and sanitising, as they serve different purposes in ensuring a safe and healthy environment.

Cleaning: Removing Visible Dirt and Debris

Cleaning primarily involves the removal of visible dirt, dust, and debris from surfaces. It is the initial step in the hygiene process and focuses on improving the appearance of an area. Cleaning can be done with water, detergents, and cleaning tools such as brooms, mops, and vacuum cleaners.

Key Aspects of Cleaning:

  1. Surface Debris Removal: Cleaning targets the visible dirt and grime on surfaces, making them aesthetically pleasing.
  2. No Germ Elimination: While cleaning removes dirt, it doesn’t necessarily eliminate germs, bacteria, or viruses that may be present on surfaces.
  3. Physical Action: Cleaning involves physical actions like scrubbing, wiping, or sweeping to dislodge and remove dirt.
  4. Frequency: It is typically performed regularly to maintain cleanliness and order in a space.

Sanitising: Reducing Harmful Microorganisms

Sanitising, on the other hand, is focused on reducing the number of harmful microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, to a safe level. It goes beyond the visible aspects addressed by cleaning and targets the invisible pathogens that may pose health risks.

Key Aspects of Sanitizing:

  1. Germ Reduction: Sanitizing aims to reduce the number of germs on surfaces to a level that is considered safe for health.
  2. Chemical Agents: Sanitizing often involves the use of chemical agents like disinfectants or sanitising solutions that are specifically designed to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms.
  3. Targeted Areas: Sanitizing is crucial in high-touch areas like doorknobs, light switches, and shared equipment where germs are likely to spread.
  4. Frequency: While not necessarily required as frequently as cleaning, sanitising is crucial during periods of illness outbreaks or to address specific health concerns.

The Complementary Relationship

Understanding that cleaning and sanitising serve different purposes highlights the importance of their complementary relationship. An effective hygiene routine often involves both cleaning and sanitising processes.

  • Cleaning Precedes Sanitizing: Cleaning must precede sanitising to ensure that surfaces are free of visible dirt, allowing sanitising agents to come into direct contact with the intended surfaces.
  • Routine Cleaning, Targeted Sanitising: Routine cleaning maintains a baseline level of cleanliness, while targeted sanitising addresses specific areas where the risk of germ transmission is higher.
  • Adaptation to Circumstances: The frequency of sanitising may be adapted based on circumstances, such as flu seasons or the occurrence of contagious illnesses within a community.
  • Consideration of Surfaces: Different surfaces may require different cleaning and sanitising approaches. For instance, porous surfaces may need specialised cleaning and sanitising methods.


In conclusion, while cleaning focuses on the removal of visible dirt, debris, and improving the appearance of surfaces, sanitising is dedicated to reducing harmful microorganisms to promote a hygienic and safe environment. Both processes are integral components of a comprehensive hygiene strategy in workplaces and shared spaces, ensuring the well-being of individuals and minimising the risk of illnesses.

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