Food-Safe Disinfectants vs. Cleaners vs. Sanitizers

Food-safe disinfectants, cleaners and sanitizers are effective in achieving their purpose of eliminating bacteria and other pathogens in certain circumstances and settings. However, each product type has advantages and limitations that can make them more or less appropriate based on the work environment. 

Each product has the advantage of preventing foodborne illnesses, increasing safety for customers and employees, ensuring the cleanliness of the facility and complying with health regulations. However, each one has its own cost and level of functionality, making some products insufficient for certain types of facilities, especially those with higher health and safety standards. 

Advantages & Disadvantages of Food-Safe Disinfectants

As their name suggests, disinfectants are intended to eliminate microorganisms that can cause health-related risks to people or employees who handle food. These products have a couple of notable advantages over the others, such as:

  • Strength: Based on their ability to kill microorganisms, disinfectants have chemicals that can sterilize surfaces and utensils in food-related businesses. 

  • Prevention of foodborne illnesses: Because of their ability to disinfect, these products can prevent foodborne illnesses that stem from the accumulation of microorganisms. 

Disinfectants also have disadvantages that warrant consideration. For example, they can be harmful if not handled correctly or with proper safety equipment.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Cleaners

Cleaners are designed to eliminate visible evidence of grime and debris but lack strong disinfectant or sanitization properties. Some of the main advantages of cleaners include:

  • Removal of visible dirt and grime: Cleaners are highly effective in making surfaces appear cleaner and providing an appealing fragrance, making cleaning an essential first step. 

  • Utility: Cleaners are designed for use in various circumstances and on many surfaces and do not cause damage. 

Though cleaners have many advantages, they also have disadvantages, including:

  • Strength: Cleaners are generally not designed to kill all potentially harmful microorganisms, so using these products alone would not be sufficient for most businesses that handle food. 

  • Creation of residue: Cleaners can leave a residue, which may be unsightly or create an additional step in the cleaning process. 

Advantages & Disadvantages of Sanitizers

Sanitizers also have benefits and drawbacks that may influence your purchasing decisions. Some of the main advantages of sanitizers include the following:

  • Convenience and utility: Sanitizers are designed for convenience and access, so they can be placed throughout your facility to increase hygiene in high-contact areas. 

  • Quick action: Sanitizers provide quick-acting sanitization of the hands or surfaces in food-related businesses, making them useful in busy work environments. 

  • Sterilization ability: Though not to the degree of strong disinfectants, sanitizers provide a moderately high sterilization capability — sufficient for many food-related business regulations and standards. 

Some of the main disadvantages of sanitizers, compared with cleaners and disinfectants, include the following:

  • Strength: Sanitizers are not as powerful as disinfectants and may not be sufficient to meet industry standards in certain food-related businesses, such as food manufacturing. 

  • Safety risks: Sanitizers, like disinfectants, contain chemicals that can be harmful if they come into contact with the skin or are ingested. Therefore, employees must be educated and trained in the use of sanitizers. 

Tips & Recommendations for Selecting the Right Product

When choosing between cleaners, disinfectants and sanitizers, you should consider the following tips and recommendations:

  • Industry standards and regulations: Different industries have unique criteria for hygiene and safety, so it is critical that you understand the requirements of your particular business. 

  • Cost and needs: Evaluate your needs. Although a high level of hygiene is always best, purchasing strong disinfectants may not be necessary when sanitizers or cleaners will do the trick. 

  • Consider the training time and safety risks: Some products contain strong chemicals that can place employees at risk, so make sure you have the resources you need to train and monitor employees if your business requires the use of disinfectants. 

You can also take some of the worries off of your hands by contracting a company such as Alsco. We can manage your facility maintenance needs, ensuring you have the proper disinfectants, cleaners or sanitizers on hand.


Controlling Exposure to Disinfectants Used in the Food and Drink Industries. (April 2023). Health and Safety Executive. 

Disinfectants and Sanitizers for Use on Food Contact Surfaces. (August 2011). National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 

Contact Us

Interested in Alsco's Services? Visit our Contact page and let us know!