Disinfectant Vs. All-Purpose Cleaner: What’s The Difference?

There may be some slight confusion when it comes to the differences in cleaning products. They all clean, so what is the difference in what you get? Does all purpose cleaner disinfect? Can you use disinfectant as an everyday cleaner? What’s the difference?

While an all-purpose cleaner is a cleaning agent used to clean common household areas, removing dirt and grease from most surfaces, a disinfectant is a strong chemical agent designed to kill most microorganisms. The multi-purpose cleaner cleans, while the disinfectant disinfects.

Although there is a major difference between these two products’ intended use, many people may not understand what they are. Let us look closer at the separate roles and functions of an all-purpose cleaner and a disinfectant to compare their different functionalities.

What Is A Disinfectant?

A disinfectant, similar to the BioProtect Antimicrobial used at ADP Services, is a strong chemical compound that has been specifically designed to kill microorganisms present on whatever surface the product is sprayed.

It is intended to be used on surfaces where bacteria or microorganisms may be present in your home or workspace.

Ideally, you would not want these microorganisms in the spaces they end up in, such as on door handles, fridge door handles, toilets, taps, countertops, desks, keyboards, house keys, car keys, tables, chairs, etc. 

Disinfectants will be applied to these (exclusively non-living) surfaces and objects, where there is a need to eliminate bacteria and other microorganisms.

The disinfectant will not clean this area of any dirt or grime; it will merely kill (most of) the microorganisms present.

The disinfectant should not be used as a household cleaner, as it is not intended as a cleaning agent, but it can be used on surfaces after they have been cleaned to ensure that any germs, bacteria, and viruses that may still be present after cleaning has occurred are killed.

A disinfectant is made only to disinfect.

What Is An All-Purpose Cleaner?

An all-purpose cleaner is a cleaning agent that has been made with the purpose of cleaning dirt, grime, and grease off from common household or workspaces – dirt such as dust that gathers in your house, grease, from oil, around kitchen surfaces, that has accumulated over time from your daily cooking, grime from around your kitchen sink and washing machine, mud on the floors that gets walked in from outside, spilled drinks on countertops and coffee tables, etc. 

An all-purpose cleaner will help remove any residue that a substance has left behind on surfaces such as floors, walls, showers, countertops, bookshelves, and more; however, if there are any microorganisms present, the all-purpose cleaner will most likely not kill them, and if it does, it will not entirely eliminate them from the area/surface.

An all-purpose cleaner is used as a gentle cleaner to remove non-harmful and non-toxic substances from surfaces and areas that need to be cleaned. Still, you should not use it as your sole protector against harmful germs and microorganisms as it is not strong enough to fight these off.

An all-purpose cleaner is made to clean away dirt and grime, that is all.

What Are All-Purpose Cleaners Vs. Disinfectants Used For?

Since a disinfectant and an all-purpose cleaner are not interchangeable, let us look at their different roles and functionalities so that we can see the clear difference in what the products are supposed to be used for and their different roles as cleaning and sanitation products in your life. 

What Are All-Purpose Cleaners Supposed To Be Used For?

An all-purpose cleaner is a very gentle cleaner that is meant for cleaning mild substances.

An all-purpose cleaner can be used to clean surfaces that are not riddled with bacteria and harmful microorganisms but rather areas that need a light cleaning.

Areas such as the countertop after you have prepared a meal and have traces of food left on the counter, or even surface areas in your bathroom, such as the sink, to clean away old soap and toothpaste that may have been left around the edges by mistake.

You could even use it to clean the mirrors on your wall or the shelves in your pantry.

An all-purpose cleaner is designed to help clear away the light dirt and grime from everyday home and work surfaces and is not even intended on being used for any deep cleaning in the home, as you would need a stronger cleaning agent for this.

What Are Disinfectants Supposed To Be Used For?

A disinfectant should be used for killing off germs that you do not want in your house, office, car, or anywhere else you may be visiting, such as the table and chair of the food court in a mall.

A disinfectant can be sprayed onto any inanimate object and surface to kill germs and bacteria that may be present. You can spray items such as your steering wheel in your car, the handle of the microwave at your office (only while the microwave is off, and ensure it is dry before turning the microwave on), your keyboard, your chair when you get to work in the morning, any and all common area surfaces in your office and home, etc. 

You can spray down any of these surfaces to disinfect them, kill any germs, bacteria, or viruses that were present, and prevent any further growth of microorganisms than what may have already started.

As was previously stated, an all-purpose cleaner is used to clean surfaces, where a disinfectant is used to disinfect surfaces – you cannot replace one with the other, as they do not have the same functionality as each other.

Will A Disinfectant Completely Sterilize The Surface It Is Used On?

A disinfectant will kill a large number of germs, viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms; however, it is not ever guaranteed to kill all of them.

There are certain strains of microorganisms that an everyday household disinfectant is not strong enough to kill, and for these kinds of microorganisms, you will need to make use of a sterilizer, not just a disinfectant.

For the most part, though, a disinfectant’s strength will be more than enough for what you need. It is not very common that you would need a sterilizing spray/agent rather than a disinfecting agent for your every day to day life, and most common workspace and household bacteria and microorganisms will usually be killed with an ordinary disinfecting spray.

So your disinfectant will not completely sterilize your surfaces; however, it will usually be more than enough of a disinfectant to rid your work and home of the common and most found microorganisms.

Total sterilization of a surface is usually only called for in extreme situations where an uncommon and harmful microorganism has been found, and your normal household and office disinfectant is not a strong enough substance to kill them.

This is an unusual situation, though, and does not happen very often – so do not worry and think that you now need to have a sterilizing agent readily available in your home on top of your all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant too.


The main difference between an all-purpose cleaner and the disinfectant is that the all-purpose cleaner is a very mild cleaner, and it has the sole purpose of removing dirt, grime, and grease from surfaces, but it does not kill any germs or microorganisms.

Whereas the disinfectant is a chemical agent where its function is to kill germs, viruses, bacteria, and most microorganisms, but will not remove or clean any surfaces – it is exclusively meant to kill off harmful germs and is not meant to function as an actual cleaner.

The two are stand-alone products, and the one cannot, and should not, replace the other. Both are necessary products to keep in your household and workspace, and both are practical cleaning tools to use daily.

If you do not know which product you should use in a situation, ask yourself, “does this need to be cleaned/tidied up? Or does this need to be disinfected/do germs need to be killed from this surface?”. If you do not know, use the all-purpose cleaner to clean the mess and then finish off by spraying the area down with the disinfectant.

About ADP Services

ADP Services has been offering disinfection and commercial cleaning services against the Coronavirus and other pathogens since 1983 in Raleigh NC. Not only does ADP Services offer environmental cleaning services commercially, but we also offer disinfection house cleaning.

Disinfection Services in Raleigh NC