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Decontamination and Disinfection – What’s the difference?

Decontamination and Disinfection – What’s the difference

You probably hear this on the news every day, that it’s important to protect ourselves from viruses, right now the most important one is Covid-19. There are reports that say that the virus can remain on certain surfaces for hours and even for a few days. Since there’s still no definitive answer to this question, a lot of home owners and business owners require disinfecting services. But aside from disinfecting, there are also services of decontamination, sterilization, cleaning and the difference between them has become really blurry and confusing.

All of these words are being used interchangeably, like they mean the same thing, but that’s not the case. In fact, there is a real difference between them and they all have different purposes.

Decontamination and other phrases from the cleanliness vocabulary

In order to better understand what is the difference between each one of these cleaning terms, and when you apply them correctly, we would like to clarify some of the confusion. This way you would be able to properly discuss your needs, whether you need commercial decontamination or just cleaning done by professionals.


This term is a very wide application and in general, can be used for any kind of process that reduces the contamination or the number of pathogens in a certain area or object. Decontamination isn’t a precise term although it does require that the process result in pathogen reduction by a certain amount. Decontamination isn’t just used for pathogens line bacteria, viruses or germs. In fact, it can be used for various forms of contamination e.g. dirt, radiation etc. This process can involve a variety of solutions, start with simple things like soap and water, all the way to sterilization using powerful chemicals.


According to CDC, cleaning is defined as a process of removing visible soil from surfaces/object either by mechanical or manual use of water and other detergent products. The soil doesn’t necessary mean dirt. It can also refer to other contaminants that are visible on the surface.

The main difference between cleaning and decontamination (and other types of treatments) is that cleaning doesn’t mention microorganisms or other contaminants that you cannot see with your naked eye. This means that with cleaning, the surface can be clean to the naked eye, but still be contaminated by viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms or contaminants.

Many don’t know this, but dirt and organic matter often reduce the effectiveness of sanitization or decontamination. This is why cleaning is used as a first stage or a pre-treatment. After that, you can continue with sanitization or decontamination.


Sanitization is defined as use of a device or chemical substances that can reduce the number of pathogens to a level that is considered to be safe and harmless according to public health standards. Sanitization is very similar to cleaning, but unlike cleaning it actually renders the surface safer. It is also used as a pre-treatment for other processes.


This process is defined (by the FDA) as destruction of microorganisms and pathogens, either by chemical or physically. It is less invasive as, let’s say sterilization, because it destroys MOST of the pathogens but not all of them. There’s a big difference between disinfection and let’s say sterilization. For example, disinfection cannot destroy bacterial spores, while sterilization can. Now, viruses, just like Covid-19, don’t produce spores, so disinfection is an effective way of treating surfaces against this (and other forms) virus.


This is the most invasive and strongest process. It’s pretty straightforward because it means complete destruction of all microorganisms, including bacterial spores. Sterilization is the gold standard for decontamination but it can be done only by approved and recognized chemicals (sterilants) and procedures.

Do you need decontamination or other forms of “cleaning”?

If your home or business property was affected by fire and smoke damage or by mold infestation, the best way to make it safe again, is to perform thorough decontamination. And if you would like to make your living or workspace safe against Covid-19, an effective decontamination can also help with this. Contact us today and let us help you make your private or corporate space safe again.

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