If you don’t know the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and sterilizing, you might not be cleaning properly. 

Knowledge is power right? Owning different microbe-removing agents is power too!

When you talk or read about cleaning, especially “deep cleaning”, these terms often get tossed around casually. But they are not interchangeable terms! Knowing the distinction between them can affect what you choose, how you use them and how much safer your childcare centre can be. 


Cleaning agents physically remove ‘pollutants’ from an environment/surface. Germs need not be killed but they are denied their food source. 

Examples of when to use this term:

  • While carrying good from the kitchen to the dining area, food particles fell on the floor so you need to clean the spillage.
  • It’s a good practice to clean the doors and windows weekly.

Different Ways To Clean:

Manual Cleaning Methods

  • Sweeping
  • Dusting
  • Mopping
  • Manual Scrubbing
  • Manual Polishing
  • Spot Cleaning

Mechanical Cleaning Methods

  • Suction Cleaning / Vacuum Cleaning
  • Spray Buffing
  • Polishing
  • Machine Scrubbing
  • Waterjet Cleaning


Sanitizers are agents lower the number of germs to a level that is considered safe by public health organizations within 30 seconds or less.

Examples of when to use this term:

  • You sanitize utensils and crockery after using them.
  • When children put toys in their mouth, you would also sanitize them. 

Different Ways To Sanitize:

Hand Sanitizers

They can come in the form of gels, foams and liquids. For example, when you are out on an excursion and a child touches the floor or just after they finish a great PE lesson. It’s a good practice to rub their hands with hand sanitizers and then wash properly with soap and warm water. We’ve got some ways you can get children excited to wash their hands!

Quaternary Ammonium (QUAT) Sanitizers 

You commonly see them being used in restaurants for tables and food prep surfaces to prevent foodborne illnesses. Because it isn’t an overly harsh chemical in any way shape or form, plus it barely has an odour, a QUAT sanitizer could be something to consider to help with your childcare centre’s food safety issues. 

Getting a trained and certified in-house cook will help with this too. Find out how your childcare centre can get certified under the Healthy Meals in Pre-Schools Programme.

3 Steps To Effective Sanitizing

Step 1

Prepare sanitizing solution made by mixing 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to 3.5litres of cool water (DO NOT use hot water. Hot water stops bleach from sanitizing)

Step 2

Wash the items to be washed and soak them in the sanitizing solution for at least one minute. 

Step 3

Use gloves or a clean pair of tongs to remove the items from the solution, then rinse thoroughly with water and air dry.

*Note: When using bleach, be sure to check the label on the bottle for an EPA statement that confirms it sanitizes. Bleaches with fragrance you’ll find on store shelves are usually NOT sanitizers.


Disinfectants are agents that kill harmful infectious microorganisms in 10min or less. It has a reduction rate of 99.999% (5-log).

Examples of when to use this term:

  • Because of the HFMD outbreak, your childcare centre has been closed to conduct a mandatory  disinfection exercise. 
  • After mopping floors in a contaminated room, disinfect the mop head by soaking it a disinfectant solution for 15-20min.

Different Ways To Disinfect:


When disinfecting, the first thing we think of is the floor, the toys lying around, the chairs and tables. But what we commonly overlook is the air. Air is all around us and it carries millions and billions of airborne bacteria, viruses and other illness-causing microorganisms. Misting helps to solve that issue. Talk to us to find out how misting can work for your childcare centre.

Bleach solution

Bleach does a fantastic job removing stains and whitens clothing. And it’s great at killing germs too. Bleach solution is probably the most common disinfectant solution that people use, especially when they need to disinfect after a viral outbreak or HFMD outbreak. 

Natural solutions

Can natural ingredients really kill germs? You bet! If you want to ditch the harsh chemical solutions, there are greener alternatives like tea tree oil, vinegar, lemon, even vodka! When used properly, these act as a great substitute to commercial disinfectants. Here’s some recipes for you to prepare on your own.

4 Steps To Effective Disinfecting

Step 1

Put on necessary personal protection equipment.

Caution: The solution can be strong, so we advise that you wear a mask, apron and gloves for your own safety. 

Step 2

Mix antibacterial soap with hot water. Dip all toys or wipe all surfaces with soapy water.

Step 3

Prepare disinfecting solution or bleach solution. Spray each surface with the solution and let them air dry.

Step 4

Once dry, soak them in hot water again so that if children put objects in their mouth, it would be safe for them. 

Read also: How To Disinfect Your Centre During HFMD Outbreak


Sterilizers kill all living microorganisms, regardless of how long it takes. Sterilizers have a reduction rate of 99.999% (5-log). 

Examples of when to use this term:

  • You should be sterilizing a baby’s bottle before each use at least for the first 12months of their life.
  • Sterilizing toys and utensils periodically will help children stay healthy

Different Ways To Sterilize:

  • Steam Clean

This is a method commonly used in the healthcare industry. Steam is one of the most reliable sterilization methods because of its high heat and mess-free nature. The treatment inactivates all fungi, bacteria, viruses and bacterial spores in mere seconds. 

The steam cleaner can be used to clean your childcare centre’s floor, furniture, upholstery etc. Read more about steam cleaning here.

  • Oven / Microwave (Only for microwave-safe objects)

Place the items into the oven for at least 20min at 275F or microwave on high for 30-45seconds. The high heat from the oven or microwave will kill all microorganisms. 

5 Steps To Effective Sterilizing

Step 1

Wash your hands, and then wash the items to be sterilized, using dish-washing liquid and warm water. Make sure the item is thoroughly cleaned.

Step 2

Set the items inside a metal pot or metal bowl. Fill the pot with cold water. Place the pot on a stove.

Step 3

Heat the water in the pot to steady boil and then place a lid securely over the top. Reduce the heat to medium to prevent the water from boiling over.

Step 4

Boil the water for 15min. Remove the pot from the stove and let it sit with the lid on for another 30min, until the water has cooled.

Step 5

Remove the items from the pot, using a clean set of tongs. Set on a clean towel or drying rack to air dry completely.

Protecting Your Childcare Centre: Cleaning vs Sanitizing vs Disinefecting vs Sterilizing

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