The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

When we think of all three, they might be used interchangeably. However, they are very different processes. It is important to not only understand all of them but use them as well. When it comes to commercial HVAC maintenance, which of these methods are you using? They may all be necessary. Let’s talk about the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting your HVAC system.

Cleaning vs. Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting: What’s the Difference?

According to the EPA, poor IAQ costs the economy tens of billions of dollars every year, due to lost productivity and increased medical care resulting from associated health issues. Fortunately, there are three types of HVAC system maintenance you can use. These help to improve the air quality levels in your facilities. You can choose to clean, sanitize, or disinfect your system – but which option is best?

Cleaning Removes Dirt

Cleaning involves the removal of dust, dirt, and other debris from the system. This detritus builds up in all systems over time, especially in the air ducts. These contaminants can cause people to sneeze and have trouble breathing. They can also spread dust and dirt on surfaces throughout the building.

The National Institutes of Health says that regular air duct cleaning is essential for avoiding these and other problems. The most effective air duct cleaning uses negative pressure technology to suck the dust and debris out of the system. Other parts of the HVAC system, including blower motors and evaporator coils, also need to be cleaned on a regular basis.

Sanitizing Reduces Bacteria

While cleaning is for dirt, sanitizing is for bacteria, germs, and other microorganisms. These can also build up in HVAC systems and ductwork. Bacteria and germs often come from dead insects and animal droppings. Although, it is possible for airborne viruses and bacteria to also spread into the ductwork.

Sanitizing an HVAC system is typically done in conjunction with a system cleaning. It’s an extra step that usually involves “fogging” the air ducts with a sanitizing aerosol agent.

Disinfecting Destroys Bacteria

Where sanitizing reduces the amount of bacteria present, disinfecting completely destroys bacteria and germs. Think of disinfecting as supercharged sanitizing. The process of disinfecting an HVAC system is similar to the sanitizing process, with an environmentally friendly disinfectant sprayed throughout the system. This type of disinfectant is used in hospitals and medical facilities. It is now becoming more common in other commercial facilities.

Which Does Your HVAC System Need: Cleaning, Sanitizing, or Disinfecting?

Properly maintaining your facility’s HVAC systems is important to the health of employees and customers. What options should you employ? Regular air duct cleaning is a must for all facilities, as dust and debris build up in every system. Sanitizing or disinfecting is required on a less regular basis, or if special circumstances exist.

You may need to professionally sanitize or disinfect your system if:

  • Workers in the building have specific health concerns, such as asthma and allergies.
  • You suspect that mold or other bacteria may be present in the air ducts.
  • There is an objectionable odor in the ductwork, possibly caused by mold.
  • There’s been a water leak or water damage to the facility (which also causes mold).
  • Animals are housed in the building.

While viruses, such as COVID-19, are not living organisms and do not remain infectious on surfaces over time, many facility managers are choosing to disinfect their buildings before workers return full-time. A system cleaning and disinfection ensures the best possible air quality for your facilities.

Let the Severn Group Help You Maintain Your HVAC System

The Severn Group has been helping companies in the Maryland and Washington D.C. Metro area improve the air quality of their facilities for almost two decades. Our experienced technicians will evaluate your system and recommend the most appropriate maintenance, including cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting if necessary. Contact us today to schedule cleaning and maintenance for your HVAC system.

If you like to learn more about HVAC maintenance and facility management, make sure to also check out our blog. In addition, check out related articles here.