Cleaners and Sanitizers: What’s the Difference?

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

Cleaners and Sanitizers: What’s the Difference?

Keeping your home kitchen clean is an important step in preventing foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia reports that proper cleaning of hands and surfaces is the single most important step in preventing foodborne disease.

There are two steps in having a clean and sanitary kitchen. The first step is to clean all surfaces with warm, soapy water; then rinse the surfaces with warm water to remove soap residue and remaining dirt. Soap isn’t designed to kill bacteria, but it acts as a surfactant to lift dirt off of surfaces so that dirt can be rinsed away. Allow dishes and counter tops that have been cleaned to air dry, or use disposable paper towels. Cloth towels are notorious at harboring germs and transferring them from one surface to another, such as from hands to dishes.

The second step in having a clean and sanitary kitchen is to use a sanitizer or disinfectant to destroy any microorganisms that might remain on a cleaned surface. Kitchen sanitizers generally fall into two categories: bleach-based products and quaternary ammonium compounds.

Bleach is easy and inexpensive to use as a sanitizer. For all kitchen surfaces such as counter tops, sinks and cutting boards, prepare a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach per quart of water. Wipe or spray surfaces with this solution and allow to stand for at least 30 seconds before removing any remaining moisture. Better yet, allow surfaces to air dry. Store this dilute bleach solution in a spray bottle with a snug top and it will remain effective for up to one week. There is no need to use higher concentrations of bleach and, if you do, you will need to rinse all surfaces with clear water after applying the bleach solution. Overuse of bleach can damage some surfaces.

Bleach-based commercial sanitizers or disinfectants are readily available and easy to use since they are already prepared. Look for products such as Clorox Clean-Up® Cleaner with Bleach, Fantastic Spray with Bleach and Soft Scrub with Bleach. The active ingredient in the product will be sodium hypochlorite if the product is a bleach- based disinfectant.

Quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, are widely available, and are also effective sanitizers. The active ingredient in this type of product is a mixture of compounds that would be noted as alkyl dimethyl ammonium chlorides on the product label. Commercial quats are sold under many different brand names, for instance: Pine-Sol Cleaner and Antibacterial and Fantastik All Purpose Cleaner. Unlike bleach and bleach-based compounds, quats can be used to both clean and sanitize a surface. However, quats need a much longer contact time with a soiled surface and, once sprayed on, should be allowed to remain for 10 minutes before being wiped off. Most household products require that surfaces treated with quats be rinsed before food is placed on the surface. Check product labels for directions for use.

Either a bleach solution or a quaternary ammonium compound can serve as an effective sanitizer for kitchen surfaces. Choose wisely and with care to avoid cluttering your closets with an overabundance of household products that all work in the same manner. Be mindful of members of the household who may have allergic reactions to these and other chemicals. Discontinue use immediately and seek medical attention in the event of an allergic reaction to household chemicals.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Extension

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation, North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.