When it comes to cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, things can get controversial. If you’ve wondered what the differences are and how to actually do them, this post will clear all of that up for you and share natural ways to accomplish each one. As someone that hasn’t used bleach or any harmful cleaners for close to twenty years, I am here to tell you that not using bleach doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to get sick in your house. That’s what I used to think. When I was teaching I would spray a bleach/water mixture, disinfecting wipes, and/or disinfecting sprays on the classroom tables multiple times daily just to try to eliminate “all the germs”. Looking back, I realize how harmful this was but I also recognize that this is just was me, trying my best to keep myself and my students healthy. If you feel like this and are curious if you could drop harmful chemical cleaning products that you know can’t be good for you if you’re feeling lightheaded or short of breath after using them, I’m here to show you how! It can be done, it’s easier than you think, AND you’ll save hundreds of dollars a year (at least!) on those products that are doing more harm than good.

Let’s start with some definitions – what is the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting?

Did you know that regular, consistent cleaning reduces germs in the home? Sanitizing is taking it one step further by removing any remaining germs left from cleaning and disinfecting kills any remaining germs/bacteria and viruses on surfaces. Generally speaking, cleaning is all that is necessary in an average home. It’s also helpful to recognize that some germs are okay – germs help to build up our immune systems. If we lived in homes that were germ, bacteria and virus free, once we were exposed to something we would get it because we hadn’t built up a healthy immune system. Once I realized this, I loosened my grip on disinfection in our home.

CLEAN: Removing dirt, stains and grime. Similar to how using soap and water and washing hands removes germs and washing them down the drain, spraying a surface with a cleaner and wiping it clean is cleaning it.

SANITIZE: Kills bacteria on surfaces.

DISINFECT: Kills bacteria and viruses on surfaces.

Let’s use cleaning a kitchen sink as an example – if you scrub your sink with dish soap and the baking soda mixture, you are CLEANING the sink. Most germs will wash down the drain. If you boil water and pour it in your sink, you are SANITIZING sink. The water/steam is around 212 degrees which effectively sanitizes surfaces. If you spray hydrogen peroxide in your sink and let it sit for 5 minutes, now you are DISINFECTING your sink.

Now that you know the difference between cleaning/sanitizing/disinfecting, let’s talk about when you need them and then how to safely clean, sanitize, and disinfect.

QUICK TIP: Did you know that regardless of what you are disinfecting with, in order to truly disinfect you need to let the cleaner sit on the surface for at least 10 minutes before wiping it off?  

When Should You Clean/Sanitize/Disinfect?

This depends on your own personal comfort level, but generally speaking, cleaning removes most germs. I err on the side of caution and have a simple routine for what and when I clean vs. sanitize/disinfect. If there’s an illness running its course in our home, I’ll add a level of disinfection to the entire house. If you have an immune-compromised family member, you’ll want to follow the instructions from your physician.

Here are some steps that I take/unwritten rules I follow:


  • Clean kitchen counters and sink; check bathroom counters – spray and wipe clean if necessary.
  • I do laundry daily – if anything needs to be sanitized or washed on hot, I keep it separate and wash it.
  • Use the sanitize cycle on the dishwasher for washing dishes.


  • I do  consistent cleaning. Consistent cleaning keeps germs off surfaces.
  • I use my DIY All-Purpose Disinfecting Cleaning Spray for normal weekly cleaning and a stronger solution if necessary – see below for my Natural Disinfecting Spray recipes
  • I use Hydrogen Peroxide to disinfect toilet brushes, kitchen and bathroom surfaces – see more below.


    • Spray Everclear-based disinfecting cleaner (see below) on all hard surfaces – bathrooms, kitchen surfaces. Let sit for 10-15 minutes and wipe clean.
    • Wipe remotes, door knobs, light switches, etc. with rubbing alcohol.
    • Launder sheets and towels on sanitize cycle and dry on high. Repeat laundering after illness has passed.
    • Change hand towels daily. Wash all towels on sanitize cycle and dry on high.
    • Use steam cleaner on soft surfaces to sanitize – sofa, pillows, etc.
    • Launder throw pillows and blankets.

SOURCE: Clean Mama