Detergents vs. Disinfectants: What Are the Differences in Terms of Cleaning?

When a surface needs to be cleaned in depth, it may be necessary to use a detergent and a disinfectant. Are you wondering what the differences are between these two products? The following article should answer all your questions.

What is a Detergent?

A detergent is a chemical compound with surfactant properties that remove dirt. They are present in different forms. For example, it may be a general cleaning product, a food product (vinegar, lemon, salt, etc.), a specific product (90% alcohol, acetone, etc.), or a powerful solvent (bleach, turpentine, etc.). Some detergents may also be disinfectants.

To clean and eliminate marks, detergents can be sorted into specific “families”:

  • Solvents, which include 90% alcohol, bleach, turpentine, ammonia, and white spirit;
  • Antiscalants, such as baking soda and white vinegar;
  • Whiteners, such as hydrogen peroxide and bleach;
  • Abrasives, such as earth of Sommières, soap, and cream cleaner.

Most of the time, detergents must be used diluted in water. They must also be stored out of sight of children (especially solvents, whiteners, and abrasives).

What is a Disinfectant?

Unlike detergents, disinfectants kill or inactivate microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. They therefore don’t have a cleaning effect; you don’t remove dirt with a disinfectant.

Disinfectant is most often used in addition to a detergent; it’s used to disinfect a given area. Hospitals, schools, kitchens, and bathrooms are often disinfected to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses.

There are several types of disinfectants:

  • Bactericides, which kill bacteria;
  • Sporicides, which kill bacterial spores;
  • Virucides, which inactivate viruses;
  • Fungicides, which eliminate fungi and their spores;
  • Antiseptics, which disinfect living environments.

These products are often toxic for the skin and must be handled with care (except for antiseptics).

What are the Differences in Terms of Cleaning?

A detergent doesn’t necessarily eliminate bacteria, viruses, and fungi. A disinfectant, meanwhile, won’t usually have any impact on a stubborn stain. To clean a surface properly, therefore, it may be beneficial to use both products or an “all-in-one” mixture consisting of both detergent and disinfectant.

A deep cleaning will require a first pass with detergent to eliminate stains and restore shine (to a tile floor, for example), then a second pass (after rinsing and drying) with a disinfectant. The detergent has a cleaning effect, while the disinfectant eliminates the microorganisms associated with dirt and leaves behind a neutral, non-hazardous surface.

It’s not enough just to remove the dirt to properly clean a room; for it to be safe and perfectly clean, it’s best to use a disinfectant. Bathrooms, schools, public pools, hospitals, kitchens, and many other places are real breeding grounds for bacteria; to eliminate them, the cleaning must end with a disinfection.

There’s a real difference between detergent and disinfectant; these two products are perfectly complementary. If you want to do a full cleaning of your home, apartment, or business, you should therefore use both for optimal results.

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