What is the difference between a cleaner, sanitizer and disinfectant?

It is constantly surprising how many cleaning professionals and custodians don’t know the difference between a cleaner, sanitizer and disinfectant. All of them are used in our day to day duties, but how does their performance differ? 


Cleaners do as they are named, they remove dust, soils and odors from surfaces. They are the products used to achieve the “look” of clean. However, that is all they do. While cleaners improve the appearance of a facility, they do not kill bacteria or viruses. Using a cleaner is a important step in the cleaning process, but it is not enough to stop disease spread. Cleaners should be used on surfaces were the likelihood of cross contamination is low.


“A sanitizer reduces (but doesn’t necessarily kill) bacteria, viruses and fungi on a surface to a level considered safe by public health codes (Cleanlink).” To be labeled a sanitizer, the chemical must reduce microorganisms by 99.9% within 30 seconds. Sanitizers are not as strong as disinfectants which is why they are more commonly used in childcare facilities and health service areas.


Disinfectants are most often used in healthcare environments where stopping the spread of Healthcare Acquired Infections is vital. As organisms like MRSA and C. Diff are developing resistance, having a fast and effective disinfectant is vital. A disinfectant, like our Perisept Sporicidal Disinfectant, kills nearly 100% of the disease causing bacteria, viruses and fungi. Perisept, in particular, kills C. Diff within two minutes. However, the key to using a disinfectant properly is that you closely follow the dwell time, or the amount of time the surface has to stay wet in order to kill everything.

Now that you know the difference, are you using cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants properly? See our inventory of surface cleaners here! Still not sure which product you should use for a job? Call us today at 630.896.6373 and speak to a sales professional!