Cleaning vs. Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting: Understand the Differences

We can all agree that cleaning is not a fun chore. But it’s necessary. 

Fortunately, we have many options when it comes to getting rid of germs — wipes, sprays, gels, liquids, and powders, to name a few. Most people find that disposable wet wipes are the most convenient and efficient way to clean. 

Keep in mind... not all wipes are the same, and they aren’t meant to be used for every type of need. 

In order to effectively protect yourself and your kids from germs, bacteria, viruses, and more, knowing and understanding the differences among “cleaning,” “disinfecting,” and “sanitizing” can help you make the best health and safety decisions for your family. 

What’s the Difference?

All three terms have a different meaning and play different roles in the cleaning process:

Cleaning products remove germs, dirt, dust, and debris you can see on a surface (like a kitchen counter) or on an object (like a toy). This can be done by washing, scrubbing, and rinsing with soap and water or by using a wet wipe pre-moistened with a cleaning solution. The cleaning process removes germs, but does not kill them. Reducing the amount of germs can help minimize risk of sickness and infection [*].  

Sanitizing products reduce the amount of germs to a safe level as defined by public health standards or requirements. They are regulated by the EPA.  Some sanitizers are also registered with the EPA as disinfectants [*].

Disinfecting products are EPA-registered products that kill bacteria and viruses on hard, nonporous surfaces. When disinfecting, it’s important to read the instructions on the label to know how long the surface needs to stay wet for effective disinfection (referred to as “contact time”). The time varies, and can be up to 10 minutes depending on the brand and formulation [*]. 

4 Steps to Effective Disinfecting

Disinfecting your home isn’t difficult, but to do it safely and effectively, be sure to follow these four steps from the Environmental Protection Agency [*]:

Step 1:  Ensure your disinfectant is registered on the EPA’s website.

Enter the product’s EPA registration number on this site to ensure you’re using an approved and effective disinfecting product.

Step 2:  Read and follow the product directions.

Not every product is meant for every surface, so read the “use sites,” “surface types,” and “precautionary statements” on the label before using any disinfectant.

Step 3:  Pre-clean the surface.

If the surface is visibly dirty, clean the surface before disinfecting. This can be done by using a wet wipe, or soap and water.

Step 4:  Leave the product on for the correct contact time.

Contact time refers to the time the area being disinfected must remain wet. This is probably the most common mistake people make when disinfecting. In order for the disinfectant product to work effectively, the surface area must remain wet for the contact time on the label. 

Simple Ways to Help Protect Your Family from Germs

Now that we have a better understanding of cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, let’s go over some simple ways to minimize germs at home or when you’re out and about.

Hands: If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use antibacterial hand wipes as a quick and convenient solution. Nice ‘N CLEAN® Wipes Sani-Hands® Antibacterial Hand Wipes are gentle enough to use on your skin, and can kill 99.9% of the most common bacteria. They’re easy to carry in your purse or store in your office desk drawer so you can always have one on hand.

Frequently Touched Surfaces: High-touch areas around your home should be cleaned and disinfected daily. Nice 'N CLEAN® Disinfecting Wipes are perfect for hard, nonporous surfaces. We recommend wiping down these surfaces at least once a day:

  • Light switches
  • Door knobs and handles
  • Faucets
  • Drawer and cupboard handles
  • Appliance handles (refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, oven)
  • Countertops
  • Remote controls
  • Toilets
  • Sinks
  • Dining table

For surfaces such as countertops and tables, first clean with soap and water, then use a disinfectant wipe. Leave wet for the appropriate contact time and allow to dry thoroughly. Most surfaces that will come into contact with food require a rinse with water after disinfecting.

There’s a Wipe for That

Whatever your cleaning needs are, there’s a wipe for that. Nice 'N CLEAN® Wipes are made with plant-based fibers and pre-moistened with cleaning solutions that will help you in your battle against germs. You can find our disinfecting wipes and antibacterial hand wipes in store at Costco.


how to kill COVID-19 on surfaces


Antibacterial Hand Wipes - 36 Packs (20-Count)

Antibacterial Hand Wipes - 36 Packs (20-Count)


Nice ‘N CLEAN® SANI-HANDS® Antibacterial Hand Wipes kill and remove 99.9% of bacteria* on hands. Our wet wipes are more effective than gel sanitizers because they wipe away dirt and grime. This package contains 36 packs of 20 wipes ( more

Antibacterial Hand Wipes

Antibacterial Hand Wipes


Nice ‘N CLEAN® SANI-HANDS® Antibacterial Hand Wipes kill and remove 99.9% of bacteria* on hands. Our wet wipes are more effective than gel sanitizers because they wipe away dirt and grime. Portable and convenient, stash these antibacterial hand wipes more


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