During these uncertain times, understanding the differences between a clean environment versus a disinfected one can be crucial. You may have presumed that words such as clean, sanitize, disinfect or sterilize were somewhat the same, or at least interchangeable. However, there are dramatic differences between a surface that is clean compared to a surface that is sterile. Here’s everything you need to know about the differences in cleanliness.

What is the Difference Between Clean vs Sterile?

Infographic explaining the differences in cleanliness

As we move from clean all the way to sterilize, we increase in cleanliness and we are decreasing the amount of germs, bacteria, and viruses that survive on surfaces.

Understanding the Differences


Cleaning is physically removing germs and dirt and impurities. This is what we would think of when we use soap and water. We’re scrubbing off of the dirt and germs and washing them down the drain. Usually, cleaning is only an option at surface level, as a surface that may appear clean, can still have millions of germs.


Sanitizing is something that we would associate with hand sanitizer or certain cleaning products. Sanitizing can lower the number of germs on surfaces by up to 99.9%.


Disinfection takes that one level higher and that’s killing germs on surfaces, except for some fungal spores at nearly a 100% rate, it’s actually 99.999%. You might think the difference between 99.9 and 99.999% is not that big of a deal, but when we’re talking about viruses, where there could be millions of virus molecules on a surface leaving behind that 0.099% could mean thousands or hundreds of thousands of virus molecules present on the surface can potentially infect people.


Then we look at sterilization and that is something we typically would associate with medical instruments or dental instruments. Things, such as dental or equipment,  that cannot have any living organism on its surface. A sterile surface usually goes through some sort of heating process. Sterilization while very effective is not practical for day to day objects and activities.

When it comes to your role in mitigating transmission of viruses or bacteria, you ideally want to achieve at least disinfection. This is due to the fact that disinfection kills germs on surfaces at almost 100%(99.999%).

If you are looking for more disinfection tips or you need an effective disinfection process for your home or business, Orkin Canada’s team of professional disinfection specialists can help.