Watch | What is the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sterilising?

A video explainer on the terms that are commonly used in every household due to the COVID-19 pandemic

April 05, 2020 01:14 pm | Updated 01:52 pm IST

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one may come across the words cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilising often. Though these words are used interchangeably, they are not the same.


Cleaning is the removal of any visible particle, ranging from dust to fallen food. It usually involves using soap, detergent or enzymatic products and water to remove germs from surfaces. It does not necessarily kill germs, but removes them. Cleaning lowers the number of germs and the risk of spreading infection. Cleaning is also the first step to disinfection and sterilisation.


Unlike cleaning, disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects with the use of chemicals. It does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. Killing germs on a surface after cleaning can further lower the risk of spreading infection. Some common areas that have to be disinfected are doorknobs, light switches, counter tops, tables, handles, taps, toilets, and electronic devices.


Sterilisation destroys all the microorganisms on a surface or in a fluid. This prevents disease transmission associated with the use of that item. It is achieved through various means including heat, chemicals, irradiation, high pressure, and filtration. Sterilisation is especially important for hospitals, where surgeries take place.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.