What’s the difference between products that disinfect, sanitize, and clean surfaces?

At EPA, products used to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces are registered as antimicrobial pesticides. Sanitizers and disinfectants are two types of antimicrobial pesticides.


What does it do?

Does EPA regulate the product?


Cleaning removes dirt and organic matter from surfaces using soap or detergents. 

EPA regulates cleaning products only if they sanitize or disinfect. Learn more about EPA's role.


Sanitizing kills bacteria on surfaces using chemicals. It is not intended to kill viruses. 

Yes, EPA registers products that sanitize.


Disinfecting kills viruses and bacteria on surfaces using chemicals.  

Yes, EPA registers products that disinfect. To find disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), see List N.

Using hand sanitizer

Using hand sanitizer kills pathogens on skin.  

No, hand sanitizers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Surface disinfectant products are subject to more rigorous EPA testing requirements and must clear a higher bar for effectiveness than surface sanitizing products. Many products are registered with EPA as both sanitizers and disinfectants because they've been tested using both methods.

EPA-registered sanitizers and disinfectants may also contain cleaning agents.

When using EPA-registered products, always follow the label directions. Pay close attention to the contact time, which is how long the surface must remain wet.

Does it easily dry out? Is it resealable?

Yes. The item is contained in a tight & resealable bag or canister.  No need to worry about your wipes drying out as it will be resealed tightly.

Are alcohol-based hand sanitizers flammable?

Yes, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are flammable and should be kept away from fire or flames.

Are foaming hand sanitizers better than gel sanitizers?

There are no tangible differences between the two. The choice between gels versus foam is really a personal preference. Some people feel that gel hand sanitizers are easier to move around the hands. Others prefer foam because it tends to cling to hands rather than roll off or drip.