I was wondering if there is any significant difference between:

Sanitizing: to make something completely clean and free from bacteria.


Disinfecting: to clean something using chemicals that kill bacteria and other very small living things that cause disease.

For instance, is there any considerable nuance between the sentences in the following pairs?

a.1. Sanitize your hands.
a.2. Disinfect your hands.


b.1. Sanitize the table surface.
b.2. Disinfect the table surface.

Looking at this video, they mean the same thing and perhaps can be used interchangeably when they are used to imply bacteria removal and apparently, the only nuance is the removal percentage which is 99.9 in sanitizing and 99.999 in disinfecting. However, I guess ordinary people do not take this super slight nuance in everyday speech unless they are technical experts. Please let me know about it.

  • Sanitize is the usual spelling in the U.S. and Canada, and sanitise is preferred everywhere else. Sep 9 at 18:11

Disinfect is the more 'traditional' word and suggests using disinfectant.

The word sanitize has become popular more recently, and particularly during the pandemic. Personally, I associate it more with alcohol-based gels.

  • Thank you Kate, but I would be appreciative if you could let me know whether my sentences in each pair mean the same.
    – A-friend
    Sep 9 at 17:41
  • 1
    If what @randomhead says is correct, technically they don't - but in everyday language they do. Sep 9 at 18:49

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "sanitizing" only kills bacteria while "disinfecting" kills both bacteria and viruses.

See also this Merriam-Webster article on the difference between "clean," "sanitize," and "disinfect."

At a guess, the difference is the sort of thing that most ordinary people don't know until they happen to look it up one day. After that they might make more of an effort to use the correct term.

  • Accordingly, in everyday speech they are used interchangeably and mean the same thing. Right?
    – A-friend
    Sep 9 at 16:17

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