Sanitizing and Disinfecting: What’s the Difference?

The terms sanitizing and disinfecting often cause confusion for providers who are trying to implement correct hygienic practices. The Environment Rating Scales follow the guidelines in the 2011 edition of Caring for Our Children (CFOC) 3rd edition. They indicate that the terms are often used interchangeably, but there are differences in the solution strength and appropriate use. Here’s the difference:

Red_Spray_bottle_bing image_share and use“A sanitizer is a product that reduces but does not eliminate germs on inanimate surfaces to levels considered safe by public health codes.”

“A disinfectant is a product that destroys or inactivates germs on inanimate surfaces.”

When to Sanitize or Disinfect? (Per Caring for Our Children, 3rd edition)

Sanitizing is appropriate for food contact surfaces (dishes, utensils, high chair trays, tables used for eating, for example). Toys that are mouthed and pacifiers should also be sanitized.

A disinfect is more appropriate for hard, non-porous surfaces such as diaper changing tables, toilets and other bathroom surfaces.

What can be used for Sanitizing or Disinfecting?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that only products with an EPA registration number can make public health claims that they are effective in reducing or inactivating germs. Check the label of all products to see if they are EPA registered. If so, you will find an EPA registration number on the label. Follow the directions on the container for use as a sanitizer or disinfectant. For more detailed information about the product, the EPA website has product safety sheets on EPA registered products.

For more information check out these three links in Caring For Our Children:

Standard 3.3 Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Appendix J Selecting an Appropriate Sanitizer or Disinfectant

Appendix K Routine Schedule for Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

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Melissa Wagner

Melissa Wagner

Melissa Wagner is an Early Childhood Coordinator with Iowa State University Extension & Outreach. Melissa has over 10 years of experience with the Environment Rating Scales as an assessor for research projects and Iowa's Quality Rating System and now as the ERS Training project coordinator. Melissa loves hearing success stories about providers who have made great strides to improve the quality of care within their program. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family, traveling, camping, and house projects.

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