August 12, 2021
One of the outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic is the heightened awareness on cleaning procedures. Whether you’re cleaning your home, office or gym, knowing the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing will help you find the best products for what you’re looking to clean as well as help you avoid wasting money on products that provide no benefit for what you’re looking to do.
Here’s everything you need to know about the differences between disinfectants and sanitizers, how to identify them and what you should use each for:
Sanitizing And Disinfecting Are Two Different Things
Contrary to popular belief, sanitizers and disinfectants are different products designed to accomplish different things. Not all products can claim to “sanitize” or “disinfect” either - those are highly regulated terms that only federally registered and approved products can claim.
To make this even more confusing, in the United States, “sanitizing” is a term used in two very different ways and regulated by two separate federal agencies.
Sanitizers for hands and the body. These are regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). You can easily identify a skin sanitizing product by locating its “Drug Facts” panel on its packaging, and it usually has the word “sanitizing” on the front of the packaging somewhere.
Sanitizers for surfaces. These are regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which defines sanitizers as an agent “used to reduce, but not necessarily eliminate, microorganisms from the inanimate environment to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations". Sanitizers are typically used in food service but not in places where more robust cleaning is required, such as gyms or hospitals. When sanitizers make a kill claim, they are typically only against a couple of bacteria strains and do not apply to viruses like COVID and the flu, nor to fungi that cause diseases like athlete’s foot.
Disinfecting is always for surfaces, never for the body. In the United States, “disinfecting” is a term that’s regulated by the EPA. Anytime you’re looking to clean a surface or inanimate object, it’s almost always recommended to use a disinfectant over a sanitizer. Be aware that there are unregistered disinfectants in the market that use the word “disinfecting” illegally, so always verify a disinfectant’s legitimacy by locating it’s “Active Ingredients” information on its packaging, it’s EPA Registration Number and it’s EPA Establishment Number.
Sanitize Hands, Disinfect Surfaces
The general rule of thumb is to “sanitize hands and disinfect surfaces”. After all, it’s called “hand sanitizer”, not “hand disinfectant”.
If you’re looking to keep hands clean, you should make hand sanitizer available - gel is preferred. If you’re looking to kill microbes on surfaces, you need to use a disinfectant such as disinfectant wipes or a disinfectant spray.
“Education around the correct choice and use of disinfectants and hand hygiene products for athletic facility managers, trainers and members is a key component of a comprehensive infection risk reduction program,” says Mary Ann Auer, Director of Infection Prevention at Wexford Labs. “There is strong evidence that hand hygiene coupled with the use of EPA-registered disinfectants on high touch surfaces can reduce bacteria on surfaces by nearly 95% and completely eliminate MRSA and Influenza . Most importantly, these practices prevent disease transmission and create a culture of safety within the facility.”
Disinfectants Are Stronger Than Sanitizers
Sanitizers simply reduce the number of bacteria on a surface. Disinfectants not only eliminate bacteria, but unlike sanitizers they are also tested and approved to kill fungi and viruses. When it comes to keeping a surface clean, disinfectants always win.
Sanitizers have a much lower bar to pass in order to get approval from the FDA. Essentially, they aim to have a 3 Log reduction in germs - which means if you start with one million germs you can still have one thousand germs left after sanitizing and still gain approval. Additionally, there are no sanitizing-only products approved to kill fungi or viruses, so they’re not guaranteed to kill things like HIV, COVID or Swine Flu.
Disinfectants have a much more difficult bar to pass in order to get approval from the EPA. They must destroy or irreversibly inactivate bacteria, fungi and viruses by demonstrating at least a 5 Log reduction against bacteria. This is much more difficult to accomplish than what the sanitizer test requires. To put this in perspective, if you started with the same one million germs the sanitizer did, disinfectants must reduce the number of germs remaining to ten while the sanizier can still have one thousand remaining. Disinfectants can also be tested against specific strains and therefore make specific claims on what germs they kill. This is especially important for gyms and hospitals, which must be actively fighting against MRSA. So look for a disinfectant that claims to kill MRSA, which should be listed right on their label.
Choose Vapor Fresh Disinfecting Wipes!
Vapor Fresh has a line of EPA registered disinfecting gym wipes that uses citric acid to disinfect instead of the harsh quats found in other disinfecting and sanitizing wipes. Not only is citric acid an ideal disinfectant of choice, but avoiding quats that have known skin, eye, lung and reproductive health concerns is a huge added bonus.
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Vapor Fresh has small disinfecting wipe canisters perfect for home gyms and small studios, as well as large disinfecting wipe refill rolls that fit in all wipe dispensers for larger gyms and other commercial applications.