How do cleaners kill bacteria?

How do cleaners kill bacteria?

Contrary to popular belief, cleaners contain chemical agents that get rid of bacteria without necessarily killing them. However, the removal of these contaminants and harmful microbes is important, since it is the first step in making sure your surroundings are clean and hygienic.

Detergents, disinfectants, and bactericides are also used to achieve the same goal in cleanliness but are different parts of the process. Whether you prefer using organic and homemade or commercially prepared, one thing is certain – every home needs to have a cleaning solution. These products are basic staples in a household.

However, not a lot of us are aware of how they work. Do these cleaners kill bacteria, or do they just remove it from the surface and transfer it to the rag used for wiping? To answer those questions, we answer yes, but with a few explanations.

The process of cleaning

When it comes to cleaning, it can be as simple as wiping a spill off a counter or as elaborate as putting chemicals to stop any microbes from spreading. You see, a cleaner comes with ingredients and chemicals that weaken the cell walls of the microbes and bacteria they come in contact with.

This loosens their grip on the surfaces they are on and makes them inactive for a while. It is during this time of inactivity that the disinfection begins. Because of this, “eliminating” works as a better alternative to “killing” bacteria when it comes to how cleaners work.

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Cleaning versus disinfecting

Although these words are used interchangeably, they are different approaches for removing germs and bacteria. They usually go together, however, with disinfection done after the cleaning. According to the CDC, they are defined as follows:


This refers to the removal of toxic, harmful, or contaminated substances or materials from surfaces using sweeping, wiping, and similar approaches.

Cleaning does not necessarily kill the germs, but removes them to reduce the risk of further spreading and causing infections or diseases. This is usually done using water and detergent, with adequate scrubbing, depending on the roughness and porosity of the surface.


On the other hand, disinfection is done after an area is already cleaned. Disinfection inactivates any infectious microbes, bacteria, or germs to prevent spreading. To be considered a proper disinfectant, the product must use of chemical agents that are EPA-registered.

Also, take note that those in charge of the cleaning and disinfecting should first sanitize their hands and wear the proper protective equipment and clothing before the activity. This is to ensure that the person will not be exposed to contaminants.

Different ways to clean

There are a variety of ways to keep a surface clean, and these can be manual or mechanized methods.

When referring to manual cleaning, this means it’s done by hand and doesn’t include the use of any equipment. Mechanized cleaning methods require mechanical or electrical devices and equipment, which speed up the duration of the cleaning time.

There are multiple processes that mix different cleaning approaches, including washing and rinsing, friction or abrasion, suctioning and blowing, and pressure or force.

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Mechanized cleaning approaches include suction cleaning and vacuuming, laundering, polishing, dry cleaning, and the like.

Manual ways to clean include the following:


This way to clean is more focused on a particular area of the surface that needs to have contaminants removed. Spot-cleaning is commonly and effectively used to remove stains from an area to avoid discoloration or damage.


Wiping is the most common way to clean. Usually you use a dampened cloth or rag to remove dirt or other substances off of surfaces. You can wipe with a wet or dry cloth and use water or cleaning products to wipe with.


Dusting uses a feather duster or cloth to remove dust or granular particles settling on furniture or elevated surfaces like tables that may contaminate the air or the area. If you use a cloth, it can be dry, or slightly dampened with water or a dusting solution.

Dry mopping or sweeping

This is used to remove dust or granular particles, and even very small objects from the floor. This will not only prevent the transfer of grit and dirt from one room to another, but it also reduces the likelihood of these particles scratching the surface of your floor material.

Wet or damp mopping

This is one way of removing dirt and spills that have adhered themselves onto the floor. A mild detergent or liquid soap may be diluted in water as a cleaning solution, or water may sometimes prove to be adequate for the process.


This cleaning approach is for the removal of stubborn dirt and stains, and a form of wiping with more abrasion.

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Frequently asked questions about cleaning

Do you need a cleaning solution when cleaning?

You can clean a surface manually or mechanically without the need to use chemicals, but you may need a cleaner when dirt or other substances contaminate, stain, or damage the surface.

A cleaner is also used to weaken the dirt’s adherence to a surface, and to weaken a bacteria’s grip on an area to ensure that it doesn’t attach and spread later on.

Are bacteria killed when you clean an area?

No, since cleaning is merely the process of removing the bacteria from a surface. The bacteria are also not technically killed when an area is disinfected, but they can be rendered inactive on removal, which prevents the spreading of these harmful microbes.

Do enzyme cleaners kill bacteria?

Enzyme cleaners are natural cleaning products that are excellent at eliminating odors and getting rid of stains, but they do not kill bacteria. They can effectively clean many surfaces and can be used throughout the home. Find out more here: Do enzyme cleaners really kill bacteria?

Do you need an antiseptic to clean a surface?

By definition, using an antiseptic is not a part of cleaning. Although it can be a part of the process, it’s more effective use a cleaner solution to remove any dirt on the surface and a disinfectant to get rid of germs.

The bottom line

We hope you are now more enlightened when it comes to how a cleaner works, what it does to bacteria, and how it differs from disinfection. With this knowledge, you can be more careful and thorough with your cleaning practices, and this may just be the start of being more deliberate with keeping your home clean. Stay safe!

How do cleaners kill bacteria?

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