Quite a few people tend to use the words sterilization and disinfection as if they mean the same thing. Although they do resemble each other—they are both used to get rid of germs—technically they’re not quite the same. Using them interchangeably can lead to a lot of confusion especially when it is time for you to buy your needed cleaning agents.
In order for you to educate yourself, here are the 4 basic differences between disinfection and sterilization.
They Have Different Aims
While both terms can mean to clean, the degree of the cleaning is quite different. When you want to disinfect an object or a surface, then technically you just want to get rid of the most harmful microorganisms or inactivate the viruses which tend to cause serious illnesses and medical conditions like food poisoning and severe diarrhea. Disinfection does not include the elimination of the spores of the microorganisms.
But sterilization is a much more extreme way of cleaning. When you sterilize something, you want to eliminate every microbe from it. These microbes don’t even have to be harmful—they may be the most innocuous of microorganisms—in order to be removed from the scene. Even the spores of the microorganisms are eliminated.
You Use Them on Different Things
While sterilization is a much more effective way of cleaning something, there are situations when disinfection is much more appropriate. For example, if you are just sitting down to dinner, you may want to wash up with soap and water to clean your hands and disinfect them. But if you are a surgeon and you’re about to operate on the inside of a person’s body, then you may want to sterilize your hands with a proper hand scrub. And even after that, you still will wear sterile gloves to be sure.
Generally, you want to disinfect surfaces around your home so that they don’t have germs which can transmit disease. You may want to do the same thing to the air in your home. But sterilizing them is much more difficult and time-consuming, and is almost always unnecessary.
But items which carry a greater risk of infection must be sterilized. These items are generally medical and surgical equipment, along with items that come into contact with food, such as utensils. By sterilizing even spoons and forks, you greatly reduce the risk that a disease can be passed on when different people use the same utensils.
They Use Different Methods for Dealing with Germs
Most of the time, disinfectants are applied on a surface. These disinfectants kill off most of the germs they come in contact with. Typical disinfectants include bleach, alcohols, and detergents. In a way, you can compare disinfection with using a bomb or artillery barrage on a specific area. You can kill a lot of the enemy, but there’s always a chance that there will be survivors.
Sterilization, on the other hand, is more like using a high-yield thermonuclear device on a small town. When you do it properly, everyone in the area dies, whether or not they are combatants. Sterilization usually involves the use of heat (such as when you use boiling water to sterilize utensils), although in some cases you can also use chemicals and radiation to kill every germ you encounter.
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