What Is The Difference Between Disinfection And Sterilization?

What Is The Difference Between Disinfection And Sterilization?

Everyone must know what is the difference between disinfection and sterilization to keep our environment clean and healthy. Due to this ongoing COVID crisis, the terms disinfection and sterilization have gained huge limelight! Both these processes are highly used for decontaminating surfaces. So, today we’ll learn what is the difference between sterilization and disinfection in detail. Here, I have explained the definition of sterilization and disinfection in microbiology and their different types. I have even included tips for disinfecting and sterilizing surfaces in the end. Let’s move ahead and find out what is the difference between disinfection and sterilization more in detail.

What Is The Difference Between Disinfection And Sterilization?

The difference between sterilization and disinfection table is as follows.

MeaningIt is the process where harmful microbes are minimized to negligible levels.It is the process where harmful microbes are completely cleared.
MethodFor this procedure, only chemical methods are used.For this procedure, a combination of heat, irradiation, high pressure, chemical, and physical methods are used.
EffectIt kills only vegetative cells.It kills both vegetative cells and spores.
MicrobesDisinfection only reduces the effect of microbes to a certain extent.Sterilization completely removes all microbes from any surface.
WoundsWounds can be disinfected for fast recovery.Wounds can never be sterilized by any means.
Cleanliness In disinfection, you’ll find an average amount of cleanliness.While in sterilization, you’ll find extreme cleanliness.
UsageYou can do disinfection on an everyday basis.You can do sterilization only for medical and research purposes.
ExampleDisinfecting urinals
Stair railings
Light switches
Kitchen counters
Sterilizing surgery instruments
IV sets

You can keep on reading further to know what is the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilization.

Difference Between Sanitizing, Cleaning, Disinfection, And Sterilization

By now you have understood the difference between sterilization and disinfection pdf. Let us compare both these terms with cleaning and sanitizing.

  • Cleaning

It helps in removing dust, dirt, and other soils from different surfaces.

  • Sanitizing

It helps in removing harmful bacteria from surfaces. 

  • Disinfection

It helps in killing harmful bacteria and viruses from several surfaces.

  • Sterilization

It helps in eliminating all micro-organisms from surfaces.

What Is Disinfection?

The procedure of destroying or removing unhygienic micro-organisms from objects is termed disinfection. This process is usually performed either by applying chemical sprays or wipes. It can easily kill most viruses, fungi, and bacteria.

Below, I have listed down different types of disinfection in short.

  • Air Disinfectants: Here, chemical disinfectants like propylene glycol and triethylene glycol are used to kill infectious microorganisms.
  • Alcohols: Here, chemicals like ethanol or isopropanol are used.
  • Aldehydes: The chemicals like formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde are used to partially kill spores and fungus.
  • Oxidizing Agents: Oxidizing agents like oxygen and chlorine can be used for cleaning swimming pools, drains, toilets, and other surfaces.
  • Phenolics: This type of disinfectant is most commonly found in mouthwashes and Dettol.
  • Ultraviolet Light: Using high-strength UV lights can easily disinfect smooth and cloudy substances.

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What Is Sterilization?

The process of eliminating all forms of microbial life is known as sterilization. This method is most commonly used in surgical rooms.

Let us now check out different types of sterilization.

  • Steam: This type of method of sterilization is usually practiced in machines called autoclaves. Here, all viruses, fungi, bacteria, and bacterial spores are easily deactivated.
  • Heat: You can sterilize objects via heat in many forms such as boiling water, incineration, dry heat, and tindilization. It helps in eliminating most vegetative bacteria.
  • Radiation: This method is best used for sterilizing disposable medical equipment such as syringes, needles, and IV sets. This can be done by using gamma rays, x-rays, electron beams, or subatomic particles.
  • Sterile Filteration: Sterile filtration is generally used to sterilize clear liquids damaged by chemical sterilization, heat, or irradiation.

Tips For Disinfecting And Sterilizing Objects

It is extremely important to take proper precautions while disinfecting and sterilizing objects. Below, I have noted down some points that you must remember while doing any of these procedures.

  • First, check out which product is for disinfection and which one is for sterilization.
  • Make sure you wear protective eyeglasses and gloves in case of any unexpected splashes.
  • Always work at normal room temperature.
  • Strictly go along with the instructions labelled on the containers.
  • Store the diluted cleaning solutions and chemicals away from kids and pets.
  • Let the disinfectant remain seated on the objects or surfaces for the right amount of time.


What Is Disinfection?

Disinfection is the reduction in the number of bacteria, viruses, or fungi to a desired concentration. Sterilization, or the complete elimination of all microorganisms, is generally not needed or in most cases not possible.

Why 70% Alcohol Is Used For Sterilization?

70% isopropyl alcohol kills organisms by denaturing their proteins and dissolving their lipids and is effective against most bacteria, fungi and many viruses, but is ineffective against bacterial spores (CDC, 2020).

Which Disinfectant Is Better 95 Or 70 Alcohol?

Even though you may think the higher concentration is more effective, experts say 70% is actually better for disinfecting. It has more water, which helps it to dissolve more slowly, penetrate cells, and kill bacteria. The disinfecting power of rubbing alcohol drops at concentrations higher than 80%-85%.

Are Hospital Rooms Sterilized?

Usually, the hospital rooms are being disinfected with various chemicals. In contrast, the highly infectious medical equipment such as bedpans and urinals are put inside an automatic washer machine that comes in contact with bodily fluids and feces.

Disinfecting kills most harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Sterilizing may be more appropriate for larger commercial settings and medical facilities because it’s guaranteed to get rid of all microorganisms. Proper sterilizing methods are always done by professionals.

What Are The Two Methods Of Disinfection And Sterilization?

Generally, two methods of disinfection are used: chemical and physical. The chemical methods, of course, use chemical agents, and the physical methods use physical agents. Historically, the most widely used chemical agent is chlorine.

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With the help of my above article, you got to learn what is the difference between disinfection and sterilization in-depth. Generally, disinfecting refers to killing harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Whereas sterilization means eliminating all sorts of micro-organisms. I have even mentioned other characteristics of these terminologies in sterilization and disinfection Slideshare. Individuals can disinfect surfaces on their own. But the process of sterilization is only done by professionals. Always make sure you follow all the directions while performing any of these procedures. Once you understand what is the difference between disinfection and sterilization, you eliminate harmful micro-organisms without much effort.

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Janet Brown

Altaf Shaikh is the QuerClubs bestselling author of They Both Die at the End, More Happy Than Not, and History Is All You Left Me and—together with Becky Albertalli—coauthor of What If It’s Us. He was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start. Adam was born and raised in the Bronx. He was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing and has worked at a literary development company and a creative writing website for teens and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He is tall for no reason and lives in Pune.