Cleaning and Disinfecting 101


The novel coronavirus forces many of us to think about the effectiveness of our cleaning and disinfecting practices. With cleaning and disinfectant grocery aisles emptied out, we now wonder what to protect ourselves with.

What products should we buy? Are we cleaning or disinfecting? What is the difference? This list breaks down the differences between cleaning and disinfecting and why each is important.

WARNING: Cleaning and disinfectant products can be hazardous if misused. Follow the proper use of instructions listed on the product.


Cleaning, or the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces, does not kill germs. Because the removal of germs lowers the risk of spreading infection, cleaning works best before disinfecting. The four main types of cleaning products include detergent, degreaser, abrasives, and acids.



What is it?

Detergents break down dirt and grease. Once broken down, dirt and grease wash away more easily.

Does it kill Coronavirus?

Simply put, no. After cleaning, materials and surfaces need disinfecting.

Is it harmful?

Not usually. Commonly found in detergents, phosphate boosts algae growth in freshwater, threatening aquatic life. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) and disodium phosphate are rarely used because of environmental reasons. Look for detergents with a low percentage of phosphate.


What is it?

Also known as "solvent cleaner," degreasers remove grease from surfaces by breaking down oil, fats, and petroleum products. Industrial and food processing businesses commonly use them.

Does it kill Coronavirus?

No. Follow with a disinfectant product.

Is it harmful?

This depends on what type you use. Many oil-based degreasers contain toxic and environmentally damaging ingredients. Look for ingredients like petroleum to decipher if a degreaser is oil-based. An oil-based, non-fuming degreaser is best.



What is it?

Abrasives scrub against hard surfaces to remove dirt and stains through friction. Common areas of use include kitchen surfaces and equipment, like floors and pots.

Does it kill Coronavirus?

Some can. Check packaging to see if it has antimicrobial agents, like pine oil or quaternary ammonium.

Is it harmful?

It can be for surfaces. Mild abrasives work well with surfaces like countertops and sinks. Coarse abrasives can scratch and damage plastic and stainless steel. Use with care.



What is it?

Acids, the most potent and powerful cleaning agent, work to remove rust or de-scale dishwashers. It is commonly found in toilet bowl cleaners.

Does it kill Coronavirus?

Some products can. Acids range from very mild to very strong. Look for antimicrobial agents.

Is it harmful?

They can be. Many acids contain corrosive and poisonous substances, like oxalic acid and sulfuric acid. Very strong acids irritate the skin and digestive track and produce dangerous fumes. Use properly for the best and safest results.


EPA-registered disinfectants kill germs on surfaces. The antimicrobial ingredients break down a pathogen’s protective cell wall stopping the virus from doing its job. Look for the EPA registration number on the product before buying.

This process does not always clean or remove germs. However, killing germs on a surface after cleaning lowers the risk of spreading infection. Always determine if the surface you want to clean can handle a specific disinfectant. Popular and effective disinfectants for viruses include alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, and quaternary ammonium compounds.


Sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in bleach, effectively kills bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Many disinfectant products already contain this common household item.

The CDC recommends:

  • 1/3 cup bleach per 1 gallon of water or;
  • 4 teaspoons bleach per 1 quart of water

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds

Widely used in surface disinfectants, you can find quats in household disinfectant wipes and sprays. It irritates the lungs and skin when misused.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Surfaces like metal, glass, and plastic can be disinfected with hydrogen peroxide. The typical 3% concentration found in stores works well. Do not mix with other cleaning agents because concentrations with more than 3% hydrogen peroxide can create harmful situations.

Isopropyl and Ethanol Alcohol

Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol work against bacteria and viruses, including Coronavirus. Many disinfectant products contain enough alcohol to kill germs. Both alcohol solutions effectively disinfect surfaces. Ethanol is ineffective against spores and dries out the skin. Alcohol can discolor some materials such as plastics.

Do not use alcohol made for consumption as a disinfectant.

One Last Thing

To ensure a clean environment, clean before you disinfect. By understanding the difference between the two, you’re able to make better decisions on which products to use.

Before buying, keep in mind the type of product needed for the cleaning job. It is also important to understand the common ingredients in disinfectant products and how you can still disinfect your space with those common household products. HomElectrical sells a variety of cleaning and disinfectant products.

Maura Philis
Maura Philis

Digital Media Specialist and Web Copywriter. Maura credits her drive to create engaging, SEO-based content to her background studying Journalism at Georgia State University. She runs marketing campaigns from newsletter-campaigns to product-focused video content to improve end-user experience.

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