What's The Difference between Detergent and Disinfectant?

In this season of Covid-19, the words disinfectant and detergent are used far more often than other times. A question on many people’s minds is, what is the difference between the two? Is it a simple difference between chemical compounds or do the two serve different purposes? Are detergents solely for the washing machine? Can disinfectants be used to clean floors?

We all know that both provide deep cleansing properties but what are they supposed to be used for? This article will explore the differences between them so that you know what to use them for and how they can help you in your everyday life.

What Is A Detergent?

Simply put, a detergent removes dirt through its surfactant properties. Surfactants are the chemical compounds that lower the surface tension between various particles, lifting soils and stains. Detergents are used primarily in the kitchen for the washing up of dirty dishes (Dishwashing Liquid) and in the laundry for clothes (Laundry Liquid).

These common household items provide a deep clean, however, just because something looks clean, does not necessarily mean it is free of germs and bacteria which can only be killed through the use of a disinfectant. It would be fair to say that detergents are missing the germ-killing element which is what a disinfectant provides instead.

Things To Keep In Mind!

It’s really important to be aware that there is an enormous difference between a detergent that’s been designed for usage in the household and a detergent that’s been designed for clinical use. Household detergents are generally mild on the skin and with scent.

Household detergents typically have been formulated with a pH of 7.0 making them neutral. If you ever use a detergent and notice some remnants left on the surface of the item you are cleaning, it is likely some leftover moisturiser which is commonly added to detergents to aid with skincare.

There are various types of detergents available across the market, all serving their unique purposes. Common domestic types of detergents, include hand soap, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent and the majority of surface cleaning sprays. It’s not uncommon to have to dilute detergents in water and best stored away from young children.

Overall, detergents provide a deep clean as they break down dirt, oils and grease. Detergents do not kill germs and bacteria.

What Is A Disinfectant?

During the current Covid situation, we are constantly told about the importance of disinfecting our hands (Hand Sanitiser), our everyday items and our clothing. Before the pandemic, we were more used to disinfecting things such as kitchen benches (Food Surface Sanitiser) and toilets.

Whilst many of us disinfect things on a daily basis, not many of us really know what disinfecting means or what it does. A disinfectant works to destroy or inactivate a microorganism on a surface. This is especially important as viruses, including coronaviruses, can live on surfaces for a few hours and some even up to a few days.

Although disinfectants kill viruses, they do not necessarily clean them. A good analogy to understand this is to look at it as you would a pest control. As an example, let us say you have an ant infestation. The pest control will be able to kill and destroy the ants through the use of various chemicals, however, you will probably have a lot of dead ants laying on your floor that need to be swept up and discarded.

Whilst the ants have been killed, they haven’t been cleaned and the same goes for disinfectants. They kill but they don’t clean.

Different Types Of Disinfectants

Different types of disinfectants serve different purposes and this is obvious when we look at the difference between a Household Grade Disinfectant and a Hospital Grade Disinfectant. There is a large contrast between the type of germs and bacteria these two products aim at killing so it is no wonder that a hospital-grade disinfectant would be much stronger. Whilst there are various types of disinfectants that all serve a different purpose, some common things to look out for and consider are:

  • Dwell Time: How long does the disinfectant need to sit on a surface to kill the germs and bacteria. Oftentimes it’s not enough to simply “spray and wipe”. Sometimes disinfectants take time to work and to kill
  • Safety: Some products are safer to use than others. Look for a product that is safe for household usage and has a low toxicity level such as  Household Grade Disinfectant
  • Surface and Application: Some disinfectants may be safe for certain surfaces but not for others. You need to be aware of where and how the product can be used to avoid damaging certain materials and surfaces
  • Ease of Use: You also need to be aware of whether the product requires the use of personal protective equipment, such as a mask or gloves

Using Both Detergents & Disinfectants

Detergents and disinfectants make the perfect pair. These two powerful cleaners are complementary and when used hand in hand, will provide a very well rounded clean.

Whilst detergents don’t kill bacteria, we know disinfectants do and whilst disinfectants don’t remove stains or soils, we know detergents can. When you consider this, you can see the complementary nature of using detergents and disinfectants.

They are a powerful combination and when used complementarity, will be your best and safest bet for a clean and germ-free surface.

If you’d like to know more about the differences and what would be best for your particular requirements, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] or (02) 9838 1220