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Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing a Cleanroom

Oct 22, 2020 9:46:15 AM / by The Pegasus Team

No matter how stringent the protocol for maintaining cleanrooms, it's impossible to always keep these sensitive spaces 100 percent free of contaminants. Over time, problematic particles are bound to accumulate. When they do, it's important to understand what, exactly, goes into the process of removing contaminants to create a completely sterile environment. 

Without a basic grasp of the various cleanroom services and processes, you risk neglecting the thorough treatment needed to keep this space as safe and hygienic as possible. This problem becomes especially alarming when navigating cleanroom classifications, which allow for different levels of particulates to be present.

A variety of terms can be called upon to describe the process of removing contaminants from cleanrooms. Key descriptors include cleaning, disinfecting, or sterilizing. Despite sometimes being used interchangeably, these three terms are far from synonymous. Keep reading to discover the main differences between them—and to determine how these distinctions might impact the contaminant removal process.


It stands to reason that cleaning is important for a cleanroom environment. That being said, cleaning alone may produce more of an aesthetic improvement than a truly sterile cleanroom. It's vital as a means of preparing for disinfection or sterilization but should not be relied upon alone for delivering a sanitary space.

The cleaning process involves physically removing dirt or other forms of debris or residue from surfaces. This is important not only because such materials can introduce contamination into the cleanroom environment, but also because they can make it more difficult to apply disinfectants or other products needed to achieve fully sterile surfaces. Typically, cleaning forms the first step of a detailed regimen and is followed by a thorough disinfecting or sterilization process.


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Once dirt and debris have been successfully removed from all surfaces, disinfection can commence. When completed successfully, this procedure addresses the most harmful microorganisms that remain present after surfaces have been cleaned. Disinfectants are generally not sporadical, although select products are capable of destroying spores following extended exposure.

Disinfecting procedures may differ somewhat based on the types of agents used. Typically, these fall under one of two main categories: oxidizing and non-oxidizing. Common examples of non-oxidizing agents include alcohols and Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs). Top oxidizing products include hydrogen peroxide and halogens.

Disinfection is defined by the Centers for Disease Control based on whether it occurs on a low, intermediate, or high-level basis. High-level disinfectants destroy all microorganisms apart from bacterial spores, while low and intermediate-level may not be used for killing some bacteria, fungi, or viruses.


Many settings and situations call for sterilization, which goes beyond disinfection to rid spaces of all types of microbial life. This process often involves chemical agents, although some physical methods can be called upon. Steam under pressure, for example, represents one of the most accessible and reliable options for sterilizing cleanrooms and a variety of other spaces or items.

It is impossible for items or settings to be “partially sterile,” as the term "sterilization" by nature involves the complete eradication of all microorganisms. Conversely, disinfectants are defined by degrees of efficacy, as referenced above.

Cleaning, disinfecting, the sterilization all play an important role in maintaining a safe cleanroom. When used properly and under the right circumstances, these procedures make all the difference for modern cleanrooms.

No matter the level of contamination control you require, you’ll appreciate the attention to detail demonstrated by the professionals at Pegasus Building Services.

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