Cleaners vs Disinfectants - What's the Difference? - Everyday Essentials

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cleaners vs disinfectants

Cleaners vs Disinfectants – What’s the Difference?

Keeping our homes clean, safe, and healthy is more important now than ever. It’s not only a point of pride when our counters are so clean they practically sparkle, but we also want to create a healthy environment for the whole family. Using the right products can help make sure you clean up food spills and muddy paw prints as well as any cooking messes from raw meat.

Let’s talk about the difference between surface cleaners, disinfectants, and sanitizers and the best uses for each.

Surface cleaners

Surface Cleaners

Surface Cleaners… the workhorse of your cleaning cabinet. They’ll clean countertops, fridges, tiles, linoleum, floors, microwaves, stovetops, door handles, coffee tables, and anything else that might need polished. They’ll have ingredients and compounds that break up dirt and cut through grease and grime. 

And while these cleaners are great for cleaning up spills, wiping up dirt and removing grease, they won’t disinfect or kill germs unless the bottle explicitly states that it will. But chances are that for everyday messes and cleaning, you won’t need to disinfect.

Multi-Surface Cleaners come in all shapes, sizes, and smells. Some use harsher ingredients and synthetic fragrance and others use more natural ingredients to clean your home. Which brings us to our Defender Multi-Surface Cleaner! This cleaning concentrate is powered by plants and essentials oils to give you a powerful clean in your home. The naturally derived ingredients effortlessly cut through grease, grime, and dirt leaving you with seriously clean and positively sparkling surfaces.



Disinfectants serve a different purpose when it comes to cleaning. Even with dirt and food messes cleaned up, there might be harmful bacteria from raw meat, anything to do with the toilet, or high touch surfaces. Disinfectants will kill 99.9% of germs, bacteria, and viruses on your surfaces. These types of cleaners are easy to spot on store shelves as they’ll usually have their antibacterial claim on the bottle. 

If you’re in the market for a disinfectant, the CDC provides a list of EPA registered household disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19. It’s also important to follow the directions for the individual cleaners as they might require different amounts of contact time to kill bacteria and viruses. Gloves and proper ventilation are also recommended to make sure you avoid any irritation.

Tip: Sanitizers and disinfectants both serve the same purpose of killing bacteria. However, a disinfectant is subjected to much more rigorous standards than a sanitizer.


Household Disinfectants

You don’t have to go straight for a store-bought disinfectant to make sure your home is properly rid of bacteria and viruses. Bleach, peroxide, or alcohol solutions can all be used as a disinfectant.

  • Bleach solution: Double check your bleach isn’t expired and has a sodium hypochlorite concentration of 5%–6%. If it does, you can mix four teaspoons of bleach in one quart of room temperature water. Spray on your surfaces and allow to air dry.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol 70%: When it comes to alcohol solutions a 60-80% is ideal for disinfecting and a 70% solution is the sweet spot. Much like bleach, simply spray your surface down and allow it to sit for at least 5 minutes. One benefit of alcohol is that it evaporates quickly.
  • Everclear: Provided the proof is 151 or higher, Everclear contains enough ethanol (at least 70%) to disinfect surfaces. The downside is that it can get pricey and isn’t available everywhere. 

And our personal favorite…

  • Hydrogen Peroxide: A 3% peroxide solution (the kind available at most drug stores and supermarkets) has been shown to be an effective disinfectant. Simply spray on your surfaces, allow to sit for at least 5-10 minutes and wipe down.

Keep in mind that some of these options have the potential to damage surfaces. It’s important to do your research and test an inconspicuous area first. 

What Won’t Disinfect

Another important note, although we loooove essential oils, and some EOs even have antimicrobial properties, they aren’t enough to properly disinfect surfaces, especially when we have a pandemic on our hands. But they do make wonderful additions to cleaning DIYs or for adding a burst of freshness into your home. Similarly, vinegar, although a useful addition for cleaning, doesn’t have disinfecting properties.


Which Comes First? 

This is simple, use your favorite (cough *Defender*) cleaner to clean up any dirt, food messes, grease, or grime on your surfaces. By cleaning first, you’re cutting down on the amount of work a disinfectant needs to do, which means less exposure to those harsher products.

If you’ve been working with raw meat, anyone is sick, or it’s within six feet of the toilet, it’s time to disinfect. For a helpful list of how often you should clean or disinfect, check out this guide.

133 thoughts on “Cleaners vs Disinfectants – What’s the Difference?”

  1. This is excellent information and will definitely change the way I disinfect. Your hydrogen peroxide solution. Is that just hydrogen peroxide or is it mixed with water?

    1. Hi Mary Lynn, when you’re shopping for hydrogen peroxide, just make sure it says 3% on the outside (it should be what’s available). You shouldn’t have to mix it with water before use.

  2. i love defender and will definitely be buying any new scents they come out with. We rarely have raw meat in our home so I don’t feel the need for using disinfectants.

  3. I used to use a disinfectant spray to freshen the mattresses when I changed the sheets but the fumes made me choke. Now I mix 70% alcohol with a few drops of eucalyptus and peppermint (love this combination)
    In a spray bottle and use this.

  4. I use vinegar to clean my counters, also clorox in a spray bottle in my bathroom. Since COVID-19 started we also have a spray bottle with alcohol and spray our shoes and leave them at the entrance… you can never be so careful. Thanks Plant Therapy for a great explanation as to what products kill bacteria and not.

  5. I use vinegar to clean the kitchen counters but knowing it does not kill bacteria or germs ill have to use other products products. Thanks for explaining the difference between cleaners and disinfectants. =)

  6. I love to clean with vinegar. It’s the only thing that gets the mineral build-up off my surfaces. I generally add a couple of drops of citrus to the bottle, so it’s a more tolerable smell.

  7. I’m happy to read this! Nice job explaining the difference between surface cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting, especially since Covid has everyone paying more attention. I know too many people who think using EO’s is sufficient for disinfecting – thumbs up to PT!

  8. Didn’t ever realize there was such a difference. Currently using peroxide for the majority but love your all purpose cleaner as well.

  9. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Plant Therapy, for getting the right information out there! Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting have three different names, because that it exactly it…they are three different processes. Also, thank you for touching base on contact/dwell time for proper disinfection. Consumers please read the labels of your common store bought products, it will tell you exactly how to use it, for which process you choose, and the time it needs to sit.
    Well Done PT Family!!

  10. This is a great read and very informative. I use to be a thieves fanatic however I love the way Defender smells much better. Thank you for making such great quality products!

  11. Awesome information, very important to know. Many relate disinfectant with lysol like is the only thing. Thank you for sharing this!

  12. The part about EO not being strong enough to properly disinfect surfaces was eye opening for me. I appreciated the break down of different cleaning substances and what they do!

  13. This is a great read and I didn’t realize the difference between and cleanser and disinfectant. I’m going to start using hydrogen peroxide.

  14. Good honest information & recommendations. Have to agree that it does wonders for instilling confidence in your products to see such honesty. Thank you.

  15. I have been using hydrogen peroxide and 70% alcohol since March. I’ve also used my lemon essential oil to clean with as well. I’m interested in trying the cleaning products Plant Therapy has now!

  16. Love your honesty on EO’s having a limit. I made the switch to hydrogen peroxide some years ago and have not regretted it. Thank you Plant Therapy for another great read.

  17. I really appreciate your transparency about the proper use of the EO.
    I mean , we don’t need to mention that other companies claim that all we need in life is EOwich makes me uncomfortable..
    I really trust what I read with you guys!

  18. How can you make the defender cleaner an effective disinfectant not just a cleaner. What essential oil can you add to it? Thank you!

    1. Our Defender Cleaners were precisely formulated and we don’t recommend adding anything additional. What you can do is use the cleaner to clean your surfaces and then follow it up with a disinfectant.

  19. Thank you for this great explanation of what each kind of cleaner does and what it’s used for. And thank you for your transparency about what essential oils can and can’t do!

  20. Thank you for the great information…guess one doesn’t think of the differences! Looking forward to using your new cleaning products.


    Simple cleaning solutions that are very inexpensive. With Covid most store shelves are bare – knowing this I will focus more on the ideas mentioned and def check out the Defender Oil.

    Thanks 🙂

  22. I have been cleaning my floors for several years with a mixture of alcohol and vinegar and a few drops of EO.
    Thanks for the information.

  23. This is great information. It’s important to know the differences in the cleaning products. And… the effective natural cleaners are tje way to go to keep harmful chemicals out of the home.

  24. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for pointing out that EO’s, although powerful, aren’t, when diluted, sufficient to disinfect. Nor is vinegar. I love natural cleaners and stay away from chemicals as much as possible, but it’s important to do the right type of research to know what works for what. I love hydrogen peroxide; it’s my go-to household disinfectant. Vinegar and baking soda are great for tough clean-up jobs. (I use that combo for my stove etc.) This was a great article, reinforcing what I already incorporate in my cleaning routine. Thank you PT.

  25. This is a great article. I appreciate the integrity of PT to keep us informed about what EOs are great for, and not so great for. Thank you.

  26. I love the transparency that EO are not disinfectants. So helpful to cut through the implicit bias and get to the point. Great article. Thanks for linking recipes.

  27. I absolutely love how y’all provide so much information even when oils might not be the best solution! Makes me feel that much more confident in the rest of the info I get here!!

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